Book Thoughts

The Belles Book Cover The Belles
Dhonielle Clayton
Young Adult Fiction
Disney Electronic Content
February 6, 2018

In the world of Orleans, where everyone is born gray, the Belles are important, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is the most precious commodity there is.

Camellia is a Belle and what she  wants most in the world is to be chosen as the Queen's favorite. But she soon learns that the job is not what she or her sisters expected. Dark secrets are hidden behind gilded doors, and while her magic makes her dangerous, it also puts her life at peril.

This book is something special. If you are a visual reader there's so much to delight in. Every paragraph is a feast for the senses. The world is gorgeous, and the worldbuilding feels effortlessly unique. All the beauty stands in sharp contrast to the sinister truths lurking just slightly beneath the surface. Reading this book is like slowly eating the most delicious ice cream sundae and realizing there's something rotten in the middle.

The story takes it's time immersing you in the rules of this world and the lives of the Belles, before galloping to its conclusion. But even though it started a bit slow, there were so many intriguing things about the story that it was hard to lose interest.

If you like lush, original, fantasies, then you will love the Belles.


Book Thoughts

American Panda Book Cover American Panda
Gloria Chao
Young Adult Fiction
Simon and Schuster
February 6, 2018

Mei is a Taiwanese-American teen who is following the path her parents set for her: go to MIT, become a doctor, and marry a Taiwanese boy they approve of. The problem is, she's a germophobe and is crushing on a Japanese classmate.

Oh my heart. I nearly had a panic attack reading the first chapter of this book (Those voice mails could have been lifted from my phone...). I got sucked back in time to  a place I haven't really wanted to remember. At the same time, this story is just what I would have needed to read both back then, and as I grapple with family expectations now.

I wonder what non-Asian readers might think of Mei's family, but I think Chao did an amazing job depicting both the cultural  and emotional struggles of trying to do right by your very traditional Asian family when their idea of a successful life has nothing to do with your happiness.

The story doesn't shy away from the uglier parts of the culture, but neither does it paint it as good or bad. One of the biggest lessons Mei learns is how everyone interprets a culture differently, and sometimes you have to pick and choose which things are most important to you. Mei's choices come at great cost, but any route she would have taken would have had a cost.

Despite everything I've said here, this is not a sad story! It's funny, cute, and heartwarming at the same time. It's about Mei coming into who she is, about family, about culture, about food, about university. Filial piety is a tricky subject to navigate, but Chao does it with deftness, honesty, and humor.