In middle grade novels, the main characters are typically concerned about making friends, fitting in at school, and, in recent years, adapting to new cultures. But with Varsha Bajaj’s new novel, Thirst, the main character, Minni, has a life-and-death situation on her hands: Mumbai’s water supply. As the title implies, water is scarce for Minni’s family and their neighbors in the poorest areas of the city.
The trend of novelists to base stories on mythology and the ancient classics—Greek myths, the Iliad, and Beowolf—has more recently been extended to Asian sources. Young adult and middle grade literature, usually au courant with publishing trends, has also begun to embrace Asian mythology in recent years, with three new novels published just this spring.
Young adult novels often highlight teenagers’ angst with identity issues. While this phenomenon may seem American with its focus on ethnic identity, there are other diasporas in other places. Chesil’s debut novel, The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart, in an English translation by Takami Nieda, tells such a story set among the Korean community in Japan.
Laura Gao was born in Wuhan and spent her first four years with grandparents in China while her mother and father studied in the US. When she reunites with her parents, she finds herself in the strange land of Texas where teachers and new classmates can not pronounce her Chinese name, the only name she knows. Gao writes about culture shock and identity in her engaging new book, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American, a story nicely accompanied by vivid drawings.
There is no shortage of books to learn one’s ABCs and readers (and their parents) are spoiled for choice when it comes to thematic books from A-Z. But readers in Southeast Asia (or those with interest in the region) might wish to consider Marvellous Mammals: A Wild A to Z of Southeast Asia by Debby Ng and illustrated by Darel Seow as a top pick. Where else, for example, will “A” stand for the annamite striped rabbit?
At a time when many classics are being rewritten with Asian characters in Asian settings, it was perhaps inevitable that Treasure Island would be recast as a Qing dynasty tale involving two notorious pirates, Zheng Yi Sao and Cheung Po Tsai, set in the South China Sea and Ha Long Bay. CB Lee’s A Clash of Steel is a young adult novel that does just that.
How Do You Live?, written by Genzaburo Yoshino, is a Japanese classic first published in 1937. On its face, it is a coming-of-age story about fifteen-year-old Copper, a talented Tokyo schoolboy under the looming shadow of World War Two. Together with a close-knit group of friends, he faces the timeless challenges of growing up.