Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Blog Tour: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena - Review and Author Q&A

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena 

Publishing Date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Pages: 384
Young Adult Contemporary

The Premise from the Publisher: "Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She's also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school. You don't want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that" (FSG).

My overall thoughts and review: When I first read the premise for this book, I was instantly intrigued because 1) it had a mystery component to it because immediately, Zarin, the protagonist ends up dead in a car crash, and 2) I love that the setting was Saudi Arabia and I wanted to learn more about the culture. This book did not disappoint. It was incredibly timely, beautifully written, and it hurt in the best possible way. It can be a real eye-opener for some readers, but also I feel like it reaffirms a lot as well. Especially with things that have been going on in the media recently with sexual allegations, it deconstructs the "boys will be boys" narrative. It's an incredibly sad turning point in our culture where things like consent still need to be addressed. But, I'm grateful for books like this because Bhathena highlights and reaffirms the problematic societal norms. Bhathena doesn't shy away from taboo topics. Regardless of cultural background, a lot of what is covered topic wise is relatable. Bhathena touches on gender issues, body image, sexuality, rape culture, cultural norms, and family dynamics. The story is told in a really interesting way because immediately the reader learns that Zarin passes away, and the story is told backwards in chronological order leading up to the events of Zarin and Porus' death. The story is told from various perspectives which I really enjoyed, even if some of them were difficult to read (Farhan's perspectives often made my stomach turn). None of the characters are perfect, and I really liked that even though you empathize with Zarin and Porus, you can see that they are incredibly flawed as well. There's an emphasis on assumptions and generalizations, and how rumors work. Even though, we learn that Zarin is so much more than 'a girl like that'.. when her death came, I cried so much. I really loved her as a character despite some of her questionable choices. Overall, I really loved this book. I always find it difficult to write a long review for books I really love because I don't want to say too much that would spoil what happens. Even though you know the end, there are lot of things that ended up surprising me along the way. If you pick up any book this year, please let it be this one. It's so well-written and I think any reader would enjoy it. It's definitely worth the heartache you'll feel afterwards, and Zarin's story will definitely linger with you a long while after you finish reading it.

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮✮ (5/5 stars)

Available for purchase at:
Chapters/Indigo, Kobo Books, Amazon, and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Author Question and Answer
Q: You wrote various perspectives for this book: Zarin, Mishal, Porus, and Farhan. Which perspective was your favorite to write and why? 
Zarin was my favorite, without question. She was very different from me in personality, but she shared my religious and cultural background; she was funny and sarcastic. I was writing a short story collection at the time and Zarin’s story was the first I ever wrote. When the collection didn’t sell five years later, Zarin’s story is the one I went back to and to my surprise found that her voice still came to me just as easily as it did the first time.

Don't forget to swing by the other stops on the blog tour and check out more content from Tanaz and my fellow Canadian book bloggers! Many thanks to Tanaz for stopping by and the lovely folks at Raincoast Books for organizing this awesome blog tour!

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Raincoast Books for participation in the book tour. All opinions of the book are my own.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Blog Tour: American Panda by Gloria Chao - Review & Author Written Piece

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Publishing Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 320
Young Adult Contemporary

The Premise from the Publisher: "An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate. At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth—that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese. But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?" (Simon Pulse)

My overall thoughts and review: When I heard about this book a few months ago, I knew I instantly wanted to read it because there aren't enough Asian-American/Asian-Canadian narratives in YA and this one was going to focus specifically on Chinese-American. I'm half Chinese and just seeing the cover previews (isn't it adorable? I also have a huge craving for hot chocolate now) for this book made me excited. Finally, I would be able to identify myself in a young adult story, and it was in a contemporary setting. The premise also hits very close to home and I feel like a lot of readers will empathize with the pressure Mei feels to honor and respect her parents accordingly. Instead of medical school, it was dentistry school for me (similar to the author actually). The story follows Mei Lu, who ends up a freshman at MIT as pre-med. She's a year younger because she skipped ahead and she's the child that her mother and father 'helicopter' parent because her brother has been estranged from the family for years (her brother falls in love with someone her parents don't deem as acceptable). Mei actually loves dance and is a huge germaphobe and finds it hard to even think about medical school. The story follows Mei as she deals with coming to terms with showing filial piety to her parents and doing what she really wants and loves. There's also a nice parallel between Mei and her brother Xing as they both love someone outside of their parents expectations. I really liked seeing how Mei and Darren came together and it wasn't insta-love. It felt really genuine and down to earth. They are just adorable, but I'm glad it wasn't the focal point of the book. The book also examines family dynamics, generational expectations, and various stereotypes. I saw so much of myself in Mei, and I also saw a lot of my mother in Mei's mom as well. My mom wasn't as extreme as Mei's mom (which I am forever grateful for. love you mom!) but I loved how Chao touches on the pressure that immigrant parents feel as well. Some of these narratives can demonize the parent, but I loved how it explored Mei's mom's feelings as well. This was a book I really wish I had in high-school when I was deciding what to do with my future and choosing my degree. It's a book that anyone can enjoy and empathize with because it just speaks volumes about doing what you want, doing what makes you happy, and not seeing things so black and white. I loved this book so much and I can't wait to sit down and re-read it again (but I plan on making my mom read it first)! I also can't wait to see what Chao writes next because we need more stories like this! :D

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮✮ (5/5 stars)

Available for purchase at:
Chapters/Indigo, Kobo Books, Amazon, and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Author Written Piece
Topic/Question: What's your writing process like?
One thing I just learned is that so far, my writing process is different depending on the book. For American Panda, the book began as a series of anecdotes. Then, I found Mei’s voice and the storyline of her parents wanting her to be a doctor despite her squeamishness with germs.  
The most crucial milestone for me to hit when drafting a new book is finding the voice of the character. Even though the creative process differs across projects (for example, with American Panda, I started with a broad idea of wanting to write the book I needed as a teen, and with Misaligned, my second novel, the book started with the plot twist at the end), the words do not start flowing until I find the right character for that particular story. Sometimes this involves many trial scenes that will be thrown out, and sometimes the characters come to me immediately. But either way, for me, the story begins and ends with the main character, and finding their voice is the most important step. 
In order to do this, I think about the kind of character that they need to be for this story to have the highest stakes. For example, because Mei’s parents want her to be a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, and live up to her name, which means “beautiful,” Mei hates germs, falls asleep in her biology classes, has a crush on her Japanese classmate, and is a size 8 with self-cut bangs. And to alleviate the seriousness of the family struggles, I wanted her to have a humorous take on the world to give the reader plenty of comic relief throughout. And because her parents are so strict, she’s a seventeen-year-old college freshman with little social skills and a whole lot of awkward. I chose the MIT setting because a nurturing, accepting environment was essential for Mei to find herself, and she needed to be in college, away from her parents for the first time, to begin thinking for herself.  
Once all these factors were decided, I outline the climax and the turning point between Acts 2 and 3, and then just write where the characters take me. By establishing the context and protagonist’s voice early, the writing comes smoother, and it’s easier to make decisions as they arise. 
Throughout the drafting stage, I have notebooks everywhere—my nightstand, the coffee table, the dining room table, in my purse—to jot down ideas that come to me throughout the day.  
My favorite part of the writing process is when I have so many ideas I’m simultaneously writing three scenes. Even though it’s hectic, I love being so inspired I can’t write down my thoughts as fast as they come.  
And every day, I try to remind myself just how lucky I am and what a privilege it is that I get to write. 
Thank you so much, Gloria! I'm so glad to hear about the writing process and how you put the entire thing together. I can't wait to see what you write next! 

Be sure to stop by the other stops on the tour for more content and a giveaway! ;)

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Simon and Schuster Canada for participation in the book tour. All opinions of the book are my own.