BIPOC Book Club: Our Weekly Reads
By Jia Wen Ho, Shaniah Shields and Madhu Manivannan
In this article, we are sharing the books we have read and enjoyed recently. From gripping contemporary Young Adult reads, to thought-provoking essays, we have a range of vibrant and poignant stories to share.
A book I’ve enjoyed recently is Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw, a reflection on the many ways in which migration has shaped Aw’s family. An immediately obvious effect of migration is the physical difference it creates between people and land. Aw himself moved from Malaysia, where he was raised, to England to begin his undergraduate studies, while his grandparents travelled from China to Singapore before eventually settling in Malaysia. While Aw credits his “neutral” face to his ability to blend in, no matter where he goes, he also finds that his family’s complex history makes it difficult for him to answer the question, “Where are you from?” Aw also delves into the emotional severance that migration creates, between not only people and their history, but also between each other. Aw observes the gulf that emerges in his family, generation by generation, questioning the idea that their story of upwards mobility should be simplified into the fairytale of the immigrant success story, or that of the triumphs of modern Asia. This is most poignantly depicted in Aw’s musings on his relationship with his grandmother. Aw addresses his grandmother directly, lamenting moments of missed connection and piecing together her history, from her arranged marriage to Aw’s grandfather to her eclectic TV watching habits. Strangers on a Pier is a short read, but nevertheless powerful, with Aw’s prose winding between the tangled questions posed by the nature of migration, refusing to neatly package his family’s story.
Ten Steps to Us is Attiya Khan’s powerful debut Young Adult novel that I have recently enjoyed. We follow Aisha, a sixteen-year-old British Muslim girl who is trying to figure out who she is, whilst simultaneously trying to live up to family expectations. The novel provides a raw and honest view of life for some British Muslim individuals, as the author addresses many misconceptions of Islam. I enjoyed the incorporation of culture, religion and the exploration of personal faith in the eyes of a young protagonist. I felt that the novel provided a great insight into Islam including Islamic customs and celebrations. I also really liked that the narrative was from Aisha’s viewpoint as it was easy to understand her thoughts, especially her internal struggles surrounding her faith and Darren — the new boy at school, who Aisha falls for. Whilst falling for Darren, Aisha has a crisis of faith and beliefs because they seem to contradict her feelings. From this, we get a conflicted Aisha, who struggles with what she feels she should be and who she wants to be. We get a backdrop of teenage life: friendship, peer pressure and changes which all impact Aisha in different ways. Aisha also battles with faith, love and identity; which are at the core of the novel. This coming-of-age story provides a portrait of challenges that some British Muslim teenagers face in contemporary society, whilst contributing to the growing breadth of diversity within the Young Adult genre which is great to read and also see on book covers.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is packed with mythology from a Chinese classical literature Journey to the West, as well as depicting the immigrant lives of Chinese-Americans. The Journey to the West has always been part of my childhood. I have seen dramas and read many picture books about it. The Journey to the West is about a pilgrimage embarked by a Buddhist monk and his three companions, searching for sacred text; along the way yaoguai or demons hunt them wanting to devour the monk’s flesh.
Set in the suburbs of the Bay Area, the novel follows Genie Lo, a Chinese-American high-schooler, who is persistent to enter into Ivy League Universities. However, a new kid in school, Quentin Sun just has to mess it all up for her. He follows her around and strange things start to happen, which is until she finds out who he really is.
After reading the first few chapters, it was difficult for me to understand why this novel is a retelling of the Journey to the West. But, when it all fits together, it is the most hilarious thing I have read, and has completely changed my perception of the Journey to the West. Of course, the novel is about fighting yaoguai and saving the world, but it also explores the life and struggles of being a Chinese-American. The novel navigates high parental expectations, family complications and embracing ones culture and heritage. An enjoyable read indeed.