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2 ways to get Trisha to read a book about an Asian-American

December 26, 2007

In the next two months, at least five YA books featuring Asian-American or part Asian-American protagonists will be published. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, that’s almost like a whole year’s worth of what typically gets published. Two of these books will be published by HarperTeen two weeks apart. At least, I think HarperTeen is publishing two books about Asian-Americans.

goodenough vs. she’s so money

Here’s Good Enough by Paula Yoo (February 5, 2008), the one that is for sure about an Asian-American:

How to make your Korean parents happy:

1. Get a perfect score on the SATs.
2. Get into HarvardYalePrinceton.
3. Don’t talk to boys.*

Patti’s parents expect nothing less than the best from their Korean-American daughter. Everything she does affects her chances of getting into an Ivy League school. So winning assistant concertmaster in her All-State violin competition and earning less than 2300 on her SATs is simply not good enough.

But Patti’s discovering that there’s more to life than the Ivy League. To start with, there’s Cute Trumpet Guy. He’s funny, he’s talented, and he looks exactly like the lead singer of Patti’s favorite band. Then, of course, there’s her love of the violin. Not to mention cool rock concerts. And anyway, what if Patti doesn’t want to go to HarvardYalePrinceton after all?

Paula Yoo scores big in her hilarious debut novel about an overachiever who longs to fit in and strives to stand out. The pressure is on!

*Boys will distract you from your studies.

And She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva (January 22, 2008):

Question: What do you get when you take . . .

1 overachieving girl + 1 insanely cute guy + 1 massive fine + 1 scheme involving a little dishonesty and a whole lot of cash?

I’ve always been the good girl—working seriously long hours at my family’s restaurant and getting straight As. And Camden King was always just that hot, popular guy I’d pass in the halls, whose ego was probably much bigger than his brain. I didn’t think there’d ever be a reason for us to actually, like, interact.

Then again, I never thought I’d mess up so badly that my family might lose our entire restaurant if I didn’t come up with a ton of money, and fast. So that’s where Camden comes in—he and his evil/genius plan to do kids’ homework for cash.

I know cheating’s wrong, but it’s better than being dead, right? Which is what I’d be if my parents knew about what happened. I never expected things to spin so far out of control. Or that I’d be such a sucker for Camden’s lopsided grin. Or that falling apart could be the best thing that ever happened to me.

Answer: The time of my life.

Okay, so there is no mention of race or ethnicity in the She’s So Money book description, but one of the Library of Congress subject headings assigned to the book is Thai Americans––Fiction, so I’m assuming that it is about an Asian-American after all.

Anyway, if there’s one thing guaranteed to make me not want to read a book (besides seeing the words vampire and/or werewolf on a romance novel), it’s a YA book that seems to be primarily about an Asian-American struggling with the high academic expectations of strict parents. So no offense to Paula Yoo, who I’m sure is a very lovely person, but my initial reaction to the Good Enough description and the Booklist review of it in the November 15 issue was, I may buy it for my library, but there is no way I’m reading this. Because, really, don’t we already have enough books like this? But then I read Little Willow’s review, and I think she just convinced me to give it a try. Especially because, spam. That does intrigue me.

She’s So Money, on the other hand, I’ve been totally looking forward to since I first read the book description, before I even knew that it just might be about an Asian-American. I’d like to think it’s because it just sounds a lot more fun and that, even though the protagonist is smart, her parents are mentioned only in the context of them owning a restaurant. You know, nothing about them wanting their daughter to attend HarvardYalePrinceton or become a DoctorLawyerEngineer. But I do wonder, if Good Enough didn’t mention the fact that Patti is Korean, would I be more inclined to read it? Because while I do want to read more books with Asian-American characters, combine Korean (or Chinese or Japanese or any other kind of Asian) with parental expectations of the academic or professional sort and I immediately lose interest. I personally would much rather read about a character who just happens to be Asian-American, or who may be a stereotypical smart overachiever after all, but whose problems have less to do with parental expectations than, well, anything else. Something else. And She’s So Money simply seems more like that type of book.

So there you go. Two ways to get me to read a book about an Asian-American. 1) Downplay the whole race/ethnicity issue, or 2) Make sure spam is an important enough part of the book that two different reviewers mention it. Or, you know, if a book actually meets all five points I mention here.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2007 8:47 pm

    You just made my day! I hope you like Good Enough.

    The full name of the author behind She’s So Money is Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and an interview with Cherry at the Harper site notes that there’s a Thai restaurant in the book:

    – and in her real life:

  2. Gayle permalink*
    December 26, 2007 11:01 pm

    Looking forward to these too. Thanks for putting them on the radar.

  3. Jolene permalink*
    December 27, 2007 7:09 pm

    Yeah I agree the latter book description sounds more promising. I too cringe when I see a book about Asian american kids having a hard time academics and clashing with parents because they are too american. So far I haven’t seen a teen book written from a third or fourth generation asian american perspective. Perhaps if someone wrote from this perspective most of those stereotypes might’ve been eliminated?

  4. Hope permalink
    December 30, 2007 10:05 am

    I agree that it’d be fantastic to find many more books about more mainstream minority characters, but something about this post doesn’t sit right with me. If you’d read Yoo’s book and found characters to be stereotypical or underdeveloped, for example, that would be a valid complaint. But to initially dismiss the book (in a blog intended to promote reading, right?) seems unfair, especially since you’ve positively reviewed other books with similarly stereotypical elements. You do go on to say you’ll read it, after all…so why not wait until having done so to put the book in the context of this concern?

  5. January 2, 2008 2:31 pm

    The point I was trying to make is, if the book description and Booklist review were all I had to go on, I would not be planning to read Good Enough. Here are the reasons why. But, hey, this review that changed my mind, and if anyone else felt the same way about Good Enough as me, maybe you should also think about giving it a try, too.

    Could I have waited until after having read the book to talk about it? Sure. But since I’ve previously written about upcoming books I was excited about prior to reading and reviewing them, and since I was originally going to discuss the above books in the context of 2008 books I’m looking forward to, I figured why not write about them now? Especially since Little Willow just reviewed it, and her review and comments about Good Enough are what changed my mind.

    I don’t review/discuss everything I read, even books I had been eager to read, so there’s also no guarantee that I would have written about Good Enough at a later date. With the Asian-American factor, yeah, maybe the chances of a review happening are higher, but just because a book is about an Asian-American or has an Asian-American or part Asian-American character does not automatically mean I’m going to feel strongly enough about it to blog about it (e.g., Deadline by Crutcher, Lemonade Mouth by Hughes, Parrotfish by Wittlinger, Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Headley, all of which I read after starting this blog and none of which I cared enough about to review, positively or negatively. Okay, I was tempted to write about the last one, though that was more along the lines of errors in books and how the word shiitake was misspelled several times in the hardcover edition, which, whether the author’s fault or not, decreased my patience with the book even more), or even force myself to read the entire book (I started, but never finished, Mismatch by Namioka, Kira Kira by Kadohata, An Na’s first two books, and Zen and the Art of Faking It by Sonnenblick). But if I mention it now, in public, maybe I’ll feel guilted into reviewing it when I do read it. Assuming I finish it. Would it be better to wait, and if I dislike the book, or don’t finish it, make some throwaway comment along the lines of “Yeah, I didn’t like/finish this book. But it’s about an Asian-American, so go read it anyway”? (Of course, having said this, I’m now going to love the book…) Since there’s no guarantee I’m going to finish *and* review Good Enough, why not bring it up now when I’m feeling positive enough about it to write at length about it and encourage others to take another look at it? I suppose the least controversial thing would be to just update our booklist without comment, but that would be kind of boring.

    I hope I don’t sound too defensive, but I guess the question I have is, is it only okay to discuss upcoming, as-yet-unread-by-me books I’m totally excited about, or is it also reasonable to discuss books I have reservations about prior to reading them? Because when I said I was totally looking forward to The Luxe, The Sweet Far Thing, and Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, or when I wrote about the Entertainment Weekly review of Before I Die and mentioned I hadn’t read the Downham book yet, no one said I shouldn’t discuss a book I hadn’t read. Why is it okay to say I’m really looking forward to She’s So Money prior to reading it—instead of waiting to review it and discuss why I picked it up as part of my review—but not okay to say I’ve decided to give Good Enough a try, even though I normally don’t like books with this sort of plot?

  6. Hope permalink
    January 3, 2008 7:52 am

    I think the difference is this: saying you’re looking forward to reading a book is not an endorsement, but it’s a neutral remark that lands in the positive column, even if you never mention the book again. Saying that you aren’t going to read a book (and why) definitely lands in the negative column. You *did* say that you were going to read the book after all, but there was a lot of text devoted to your perceived negatives. Next to a description of a book you’re excited about, and it felt that much more negative. My quibble’s with the net effect, which seemed more discouraging than encouraging. Sounds like that wasn’t your intent, but I read a lot of book blogs and thought it was worth mentioning how this entry read, to me, anyway.
    I definitely agree that publicists’ too heavy reliance on key words usually doesn’t help sell books!

  7. January 3, 2008 1:23 pm

    Ah, I see what you’re saying. Thanks for bringing it up, and it’s something I’ll keep in mind in the future.

    I should also add that in going on and on about the timing of the post yesterday, I forgot to mention that another reason I wrote it was to try to sort out my own feelings about Asian-Americans and books. It bothers me that I would probably be more likely to read Good Enough if Patti’s ethnicity hadn’t been mentioned. I doubt I’d be all that excited about it, and still might pass it over, even if I was under the impression it was about a white girl, but I do think the likelihood of me reading it would be higher. This makes me rather uncomfortable, like I’m slightly racist or self-hating or something, for not wanting to read a book *because* it’s about an Asian-American. But at the same time, I don’t want to feel obligated to read something simply because it’s about an Asian-American or by and Asian-American author.

  8. January 20, 2008 2:48 pm

    Hi Trisha! This is Paula Yoo, the author of GOOD ENOUGH. Thank you for this thoughtful and intelligent debate on my novel. I agree with your overall thoughts about wanting more novels featuring Asian American characters in a more mainstream manner where race/cultural identity (as well as the model minority myth and clashes with immigrant parents) are not the main issue. As a former newspaper journalist, we called this “mainstreaming” where we would interview people of color on non-race issues. (For example, if we were doing a story on, say, a quilting bee, we’d interview a diverse group of people who would talk only about quilting bees and not their racial/ethnic background. Don’t ask me why “quilting bee” was the first thing to pop into my brain! I don’t even sew! LOL!) Anyway, when I wrote my novel, it honestly was inspired by my life growing up. I was your typical geeky outcast who didn’t go to Prom. But when I started writing, instead of focusing on the stress and loneliness and all that cliched painful teen angst, I found myself laughing at my own memories and realizing how funny high school really was. So that’s what I ended up writing. I never approached the book with a mission. I never intended it to be a novel preaching about the stereotypes of the Asian model minority myth etc. or about the difficulty in communicating with parents who are immigrants. My parents and I get along just fine! 🙂 In fact, I too cringe when I see or hear books being written about the same topic… it’s an unfair knee-jerk reaction, I admit… but then I will read those books to see if that’s what those books are truly about… or if it’s just a marketing description. 🙂 So far, most of the books I’ve read have turned out to be quite lovely and much more than books focusing on race issues. When I first began writing GOOD ENOUGH, I had no idea the cultural/parental/Asian ‘stuff’ would be featured so prominently as the pages added up. But at the same time, my novel is not solely about cultural issues – it may be marketed that way and it may definitely seem so at first as you begin reading it, but hopefully as you continue to read, you will see that in the end, it’s just a story about a girl named Patti. She could be any ethnicity/race – for me, the universal theme ended up being… what makes us happy? How do we finally break away and become independent from our families? Hmmm, maybe this book was good therapy for me! 🙂 LOL! And ironically… this is the first piece of fiction I have ever written where the character was Korean American. I’ve written short stories and other novels (yet to be published) and scripts featuring main characters who are everything from a 20-year-old white stoner dude (LOL) to an elderly man to a young mother living in New Orleans. One of my other novels-in-progress features a 12-year-old girl living in 18th-century Italy. In other words, I write about whatever characters or issues interest me. But when I finally wrote, well, about myself (LOL), that was the first book to be accepted for publication! I suppose it was because I wrote it from my heart. Awww. 🙂 Ultimately, I hope my novel will be read by readers of all ages and ethnicities. It is a privilege and an honor to have your novel accepted for publication, and I do not take this responsibility lightly – my editor and I were very thorough in the revision/editing process and in making sure this book was not just another cliched “overachiever minority myth” novel but a universally-themed novel about a girl EVERYONE could identify/relate to. I’m thrilled and terrified at the same time for the book’s debut, and I welcome all thoughts/reactions on my novel, be it negative or positive, as long as it is constructive and helps me become a better writer. Anyway, I apologize for this rather long and rambling comment but I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful commentary and for a very enlightening debate between you and your blog readers about this topic. I hope you do give my book a chance and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. I mentioned this blog entry on my myspace blog today because I think it’s such an important topic worthy of further discussion and debate. Thanks for promoting reading and literature for young people… keep up the great work! Sincerely, Paula Yoo

  9. amy goldman koss permalink
    January 20, 2008 3:44 pm

    Three cheers for the underachieving asian cheerleader w/ lazy immigrant parents!
    amy g koss

  10. January 20, 2008 4:47 pm

    “… the underachieving Asian cheerleader w/lazy immigrant parents…” LOL!!! I smell SEQUEL! ROFL! 🙂 cheers, Paula

  11. January 20, 2008 7:01 pm

    Paula – Thanks for your comments. I’ll definitely pick up Good Enough now. And I would totally read that underachieving Asian cheerleader book, too!

  12. January 21, 2008 5:21 pm

    Trisha – you’re welcome. Thanks again for a great blog. I’m embarrassed now to see my long rambling comment is longer than your actual blog. LOL! 🙂 Well, its obvious I’m a NOVELIST, huh? 🙂 Best, Paula

  13. March 17, 2008 4:50 pm

    Mmkay, I know you posted this MONTHS ago, but I just had to stop by and thank you for posting it because I just finished Good Enough and I loooved it. 😀 Thanks for putting it on my radar!

  14. May 17, 2008 10:17 am

    Very nice article and I am impressed about it.
    Thanks for sharing.

  15. May 26, 2008 5:51 am

    She’s So Money FINALLY came in for me, and I raced through it. (The only thing that interrupted my reading was the jazz choral concert I attended mid-day. I even read a little more at intermission.) I really enjoyed it.

  16. May 30, 2008 10:04 pm

    LW – glad you liked it!

    And, Abby, you’re welcome. 🙂

  17. June 15, 2008 2:06 pm

    Trisha is great. Woh, thanks for sharing this article which I enjoyed reading.

  18. July 26, 2008 8:36 am

    Woh, she is so hot. She worths millionaire.


  1. Overachieving Asians… « Lactating Bookworm

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