Life in a country away from home

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

Sisters
Written by Amy Laizans, Illustrated by Sophie Scahill
Little Steps Publishing, 2013

Jane and her best friend are like most other kids their age living in Australia. They like to play outside in the sun, jump rope together, and read books aloud together. The two girls even help their mothers in the kitchen from time to time.

In fact, the two girls are so close, they are inseparable and consider themselves sisters.

But then one day during lunch at school, a classmate asks Jane if she speaks English. And while she was born in Australia and her best friend — the narrator of “Sisters,” who remains nameless — emigrated from Germany, it is Jane’s language skills that come into question.

This is because Jane is Filipino.

Although “Sisters” is a book geared toward grade school children and written in simple language that young readers can easily understand, it touches on the very complex and complicated issues of race and immigration. The narrator and Jane’s friendship is tested as the latter’s race is put on the spot and the former — and readers as well — question why it should even matter.

“Sisters” is a story about what it means to be a real friend and how to look beyond what a person looks like before judging them. This is a lesson that people are never too young — or old — to learn. I love how Laizans tackles the issue head-on, while making sure her readers understand the message.

In addition to the story, “Sisters” is beautifully illustrated with fun pictures in bright colors that bring Jane and her best friend’s adventures to life. From blowing giant bubble gum bubbles to exploring in the woods, Scahill’s computer-generated images will have young readers wishing they could join in on the fun with the two girls.

Gilded
By Christina Farley
Skyscrape, 2014

A few years after her mother dies, 16-year-old Jae Hwa and her father move from their Los Angeles home to Seoul, South Korea.

Having been uprooted from the only home she has ever known, Jae works to fit in with her new classmates and figure out why her paternal grandfather seems to dislike her so much.

Just as she begins to make friends at her new school, Jae discovers why her grandfather has been so adamant in wanting to send her back to the United States. For centuries, Haemosu, a Korean demi-god, has been stealing the souls of the oldest daughter from each generation in her family. And as long as she’s in Korea, she’s next.

A black belt in tae kwon do and highly skilled in Korean archery, Jae is confident her skills will be enough to defeat Haemosu. She quickly finds out how wrong she is and learns the ancient art of metamorphism and uses her growing power in the Spirit World.

While Jae receives help from multiple fronts, she is hesitant to accept it — partly out of a fierce independence streak and partly out of wanting to keep her family and friends safe. Jae is the furthest thing from a wilting wallflower, and her will to fight Haemosu takes both the demi-god and herself by surprise. In addition, Jae’s skills make her a worthy opponent of Haemosu’s powers, as well as a strong figure for young people to look up to.

“Gilded” may be a story filled with magic, action, and adventure, but it is also the story of a family trying to find their way back to each other. From estranged siblings and complicated parent-child relationships, Farley shows that no matter what, in the end, it all comes down to family.

City of Tranquil Light
By Bo Caldwell
Henry Holt and Company, 2010

The year is 1906. At the age of 21, Will Kiehn is living quite the ordinary life, seemingly destined to become a humble farmer in the Midwest like his father and older siblings. But when a family friend pays a visit with stories of his missionary work in the North China Plain, Will feels a call from God to do the same.

While there, he meets Katherine, a nurse dedicated to service as well. The two marry a couple years later.

“Tranquil Light” alternates between Will and Katherine’s points of view and is the story of an initially young couple as they dedicate themselves to doing God’s work and helping others in a country that neither of the characters knew much about. And it’s not easy — over the decades, they face personal loss, civil war, famine, widespread illness, and more.

Enduring all the fear, pain, dangers, and struggles that come with missionary work in a rural village, readers will be inspired to see how strong Will and Katherine are and how unshakeable their faith in God is. It is nothing less than admirable to see how devoted they are. As someone who is not super religious, I found this to be one of the most touching and inspirational parts of “Tranquil Light.”

I also enjoyed reading a story in which the American characters are the ones traveling to a foreign country and have to learn how to adapt. Will and Katherine’s initial observations and experiences regarding Chinese customs and traditions are entertaining, as they are often thrown into situations in which they have no clue what to do or how to act. They are definitely fish out of water, but their efforts to learn all they can endears them to the Chinese people, as well as readers. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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