I felt it was about time to do another Top 5 Wednesday topic.
September 12th: Books For My Younger Self
— This was recommended as a topic on twitter and I love it! Books that you wish your younger self would have read to learn a life lesson, get more self confidence, open your eyes to a new perspective, etc.
1. Shadow Girl – Liana Liu
I rarely ever read books set in the real world, but Shadow Girl was an exception. What first drew me in was the girl on the cover and the lovely blue accents the title provides. I don’t usually like people on the cover of books, but since Shadow Girl’s cover is illustrated and has a Chinese girl on it, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards it. It’s very elegant the way I think Of Metal and Wishes had an elegant cover with an Asian girl on it (though, I heard this one is pretty racist and fetishy in terms of content, so I’m sticking clear of actually reading it).
Aside from the cover, I love how Liana Liu discusses class differences between Mei’s low-income Chinese-American family and the ultra rich white people who hire Mei to tutor their kid. Although Mei has a very sweet personality and I… don’t, I could still relate to her immensely as she was always on-guard and trying to evaluate where she stood with the people around her and constantly trying to adapt based on their perception of her. The image she projects to the people who have (financial) power over her and who she is are different – and that is a very real experience to me. Appealing to people comes very hard to me, but as I’ve realized being my authentic self to people who don’t understand or want to understand where I’m coming is an uphill battle. It’s a battle I’m willing to go hard on, but not everyone operates like me (an INTJ with a Fe deficit OTL) – and Mei’s story is one that highlights this.
Constantly trying to meet the whims of privileged people causes Mei to undersell her value, and as the book progresses she begins to start embracing the more direct, bossy side of herself that she repressed as a tutor for wealthy families. The way Liu depicts Mei’s experiences in a single-parent, low-income family is So Real and I don’t think many readers really understood how good of an Own Voices book this is. Admittedly, readers going in expecting a gripping horror story will be disappointed, but I quite enjoyed this as an Own Voices book. I certainly related to it more than the likes of American Panda where Ivy + other prestige schools worship is rampant.
Why does this book have a 3.27 rating??? Shadow Girl is worth the read. It feels so real.
2. The Serpent’s Secret – Sayantani DasGupta
Kiranmala, our MC, is honestly a joy to read. She comes to appreciate her parents in a whole new light on her adventure as an ARCHERY MOON SERPENT PRINCESS. As someone who didn’t appreciate her parents enough as a kid, I would have definitely benefited from reading this and seeing how much Kiran’s parents had sacrificed for her and how much they loved her and how much Kiran came to reazlie all of this when she learned about her true origins. Kiran’s love interest (?) Neel also has some princely baggage, which checks all my boxes. As I’ve come to realize all the tropes I love now are tropes I’ve loved since I was a kid, so this book would have been entirely MY BRAND. This book has some awesome Bengali folklore and an Indian princess who tbh checks all my boxes because I love princesses especially archery moon serpent ones. Yes, it’s oddly specific in pandering to my tastes, so I’ll take it!
3. The Prince and the Dressmaker – Jen Wang
There always needs to be more stories that show how it’s different to be ok and embrace your uniqueness. This would have been great to help little me develop some much needed Fi and validate my need for self-authenticity.
Ever since I was a wee lass, I’ve been attracted to stunning visuals. The Prince and the Dressmaker provides costume-porn galore. This would have gone perfectly with my neopets faerie dress designing phase. This also would have been my gateway into making comics if I hadn’t already encountered a slew of CLAMP and Sailor Moon manga before the age of 5.
4. Want – Cindy Pon
Cindy Pon knows what I want in my heart, and what I want is food. And honorable boys and girls seeking social justice!
I read this just around time for Chinese New Year, so imagine how happy I was to see a YA set in Taiwan with an all-Asian main cast (not exclusively Taiwanese, we have Indians, Filipinos, and mainland Chinese in our squad too!). I enjoyed the squad dynamics in this book immensely. It gave me nostalgic feelings for Princess Returning Pearl (the Zhao Wei and Ruby Lin version, not the other one, you heathens) squad goals where everyone is so honorable and watches out for one another.
I suppose it’s redundant to say that this book is Very Asian, but it is! Jason’s family backstory and was something I never see done the same way in Western media. I cannot aptly describe this feeling with words, but it is one you recognize when you feel it in your Asian heart! This is a book that respects your momma (despite many of them not showing up or dying, but here me out). Jason’s feelings about his mom really got to me. And so did Daiyu’s family relationships. And so did Arun’s. *clutches chest* If I didn’t hate needles, I’d tattoo my mom’s favorite flower on my chest too, binch wtf (single tear).
In terms of what I would have loved to see as a kid – Daiyu’s rule-follower persona vs. her being the actual rule breaking queen. This is how I had always operated as a kid, because if you got into the adults’ good graces, you could essentially get away with a lot. I love how she didn’t come across as goody-goody (as a kid I thought these were people with bad acting skills who didn’t know how to appear sincere. heck I still think this), because she is honestly sincere about many of her aspirations. But if she plays obedient, she can wedge her ways into places where she can do real good rather than go along with her father’s nefarious plans – essentially operate within the system as a double agent of justice! And that’s what I loved about her.
5. A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge
This is the Slytherclaw represenation I’ve always wanted to see in a book. The MC, Makepeace, is so resourceful and clever. She’s an underdog and a bastard, but she can still match wits with the heir of her family to save herself and her brother. I would have loved to read this book as a kid – just to see how there are different ways to be a hero in your own story. This is probably the best book I bought on a whim.