Friday, January 19, 2018

Interview with Gloria Chao, the author of American Panda, and INT Giveaway!



Dear Readers,
One of my favorite reads this past year has definitely been American Panda, which I think is an important addition to the growing YA literature about growing up as an Asian American. I definitely felt kinship to Mei, the protagonist and wish that I had this book when I was growing up!
American Panda
Goodreads Book Description: 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?

My rating: 4.5 Couches

My review: I started the wonderful American Panda a day ago and had to stay up last night to finish it.

The book description for me was a bit of a mislabeling and maybe it's because of the personal place I'm reading it from. I didn't think it was a comedy by any means because I identified so strongly with Mei, the way she struggling between two cultures and finding herself when her parents had already found the version they wanted of her, her foot in the mouth comments, and her liberating experiences in college. I just found myself feeling sad and moved at the same time.

Luckily, my experience wasn't the same as Mei's-- she was constrained with every single decision. Fortunately, my parents were more relaxed and understanding (in their own way) of American culture, but some experiences rang exactly the same. I loved and identified with Mei as you can tell. She was a great character, likeable, and relatable. I hope that other people without similar experiences will find her story resonates with them. I hated that her parents were so strict that she felt she couldn't even think for herself anymore. And the risks were high for any sort of disobedience-- being completely disowned and getting money taken away from schooling. Sacrifice and money are the ways that Asian parents show love, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making love feel absolutely conditional. And I know Mei struggled with that daily.

I loved the side characters of Mei's brother, who has already been disowned, Xing, her crush, Darren, who is (gasp!) not Taiwanese, and in particular, Mei's mother, who is a complex and sympathetic character.

Several times during reading this book did I wish that I had this book as a teen. I could have used the knowledge that I wasn't alone, and that there was hope at the end of the tunnel.

Why the dock of 0.5? This is completely a personal thing-- not really a dock on the book, which is wonderful. SPOILER ALERT!!! Don't read this next paragraph as this has spoilers from the end of the book. I just couldn't reconcile my experience with Mei's and her mom's because her mom seemed to understand Mei and transition herself to understanding Mei so fast; she was just much more emotionally intelligent than my experience has shown. There was a lot we didn't see though, like the four years of agony from being separated from Xing, so maybe Mei's mother was in a place where she was ready to understand. But there were decades of cultural brainwashing to get over and it felt very quick to me. Perhaps also part of it was that Mei was so mature with her understanding of what was going on quickly as well.

Overall, I am delighted and honored to have read American Panda, a vitally important book, which really highlights a "hidden" culture that doesn't get talked about enough, and I know a lot of Asian teens will see it as a beacon of hope, and possibly come to a greater understanding about their parents. 

About our Author:
Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at gloriachao.wordpress.com. Twitter: @gloriacchao. Instagram: @gloriacchao Facebook: gloriachaoauthor


American Panda Preorder Links:

 

Interview with Gloria
1. You've mentioned in other interviews that you wrote this book from your own experiences growing up. Can you speak a little about that and any words of advice to other Asian American teens going through similar trials?
Almost everything in this book is based on either something directly from my own experience, or from someone I know. I worked hard to write the most honest portrayal of a Taiwanese American experience that I could. In particular, Mei’s relationship with her mother and the arc they take is closely adapted from my own experience. Some of the dialogue with the mother at the end of the book is taken word-for-word from real life (but translated from Mandarin). I wrote this to show other Asian Americans that they are not alone, that it’s okay to feel as if you don’t belong, and it can get better. To anyone out there struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in, you are not alone.

2. What was the easiest and hardest parts of writing this book? 
Mei’s mother practically wrote herself. She’s based on a few people I know (and yes, largely my mother), and once I found the right mix, her scenes were the easiest and most fun to write.

The hardest parts of writing this book were the sections that forced me to work through tough emotions in my own life, mostly regarding my own identity, my career, and my relationship with my parents. However, this also turned out to be the most rewarding because writing about them helped me deal in a way I’d never been able to before. I have grown so much from writing this book, and I’ve learned to communicate with my parents, especially my mother.

3. If you could sort your characters into Hogwarts houses, where would they go? You?
Mei: Ravenclaw
Darren: Ravenclaw
Mei’s Mom: Hat would let her choose between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, and she would eventually pick Gryffindor
Ying-Na: Gryffindor
Nicolette: Slytherin
Me: Part Hufflepuff, part Ravenclaw 

4. Any advice for young writers trying to write their #ownvoices novels?
Tell the story only you can tell, and while feedback is important, only you know your story the best. There’s a lot of pressure to “write what sells” and perhaps adapt to what’s out in the market, but sometimes in this process, you can lose what makes your voice unique. Focus on what makes you stand out and own it! There are readers out there who need your story, and publishing is all about finding that right fit, which takes time and patience—just don’t give up!

5. What book changed your life? 
A lot of books have impacted me throughout my life (for example, I was in love with The Baby-Sitters Club as a kid and devoured them over and over), but the two series that got me into writing young adult were Harry Potter and Twilight. I caught onto the young adult genre as it was forming, and it felt like I’d finally found where I belonged. I read widely in the genre through dental school and eventually began writing my own stories.

6. What do you have next on the horizon? 
I’m so thrilled that my next book, Misaligned, will be released fall 2019! The book follows a teen outcast growing up in a predominantly white, small Midwestern town, and when another Taiwanese family moves to town, she’s swept up in a whirlwind romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets. This book explores topics of racism, microaggressions, and not fitting in. 

And now, you have the opportunity to win the pre-order gift for American Panda... without having to pre-order (although you should anyway!). See below for what you have the chance to win! All you have to do is fill out the rafflecopter and cross your fingers! This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL!





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Friday, January 12, 2018

Blog Tour: The Key to Everything by Paula Stokes and GIVEAWAY!




Dear Readers:
I'm so thrilled to host one of my favorite authors of all time, Paula Stokes, for her new book The Key to Everything, which I loved-- such a fun, fluffy ride and makes me want to visit Thailand more!



Book Description: College senior Oakland Fuller has always believed in signs and soulmates, so when both a therapist and a fortuneteller say that her repeated relationship failures are due to unresolved feelings for her high school boyfriend, Seth, Oakland tries desperately to get back in touch with him. Problem: Seth isn’t responding to her online messages.

To rescue Oakland from a pathetic Christmas break of sitting in front of the computer, her best friend Morgan books the two of them on a guided excursion of Thailand. When the girls meet a pair of American soldiers in Bangkok, Oakland takes Morgan’s advice and engages in a little harmless holiday hooking up. Sergeant Tyson Banks is the perfect mix of sexy and fun. Two weeks with him might just turn out to be the best relationship Oakland has ever had.

Until the day she spots someone familiar across a crowded temple complex—it’s Seth! Somehow the boy she’s been trying to reconnect with is in Bangkok too. If that’s not a sign, then what is?

Filed with friendship, romance, and gorgeous faraway settings, The Key to Everything is a book for anyone who's ever dreamed of finding love when (or where) they least expected it.


AUTHOR BIO:
Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious, Ferocious, and This is How it Happened. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on Twitter and Instagram as @pstokesbooks.



LINKS:


Paula: One of my favorite places in Thailand (and in the world, really) is Sukothai Historical Park. Oakland and the entire tour group end up stopping here for a day after their adventures in Chiang Mai.

Here’s a mood board full of gorgeous Thai ruins. Some of these are from Sukothai and others are from the nearby city of Ayutthaya.



Here’s an excerpt from the historical park:

            “Check that out, y’all.” Jed points at a high wall of red and black brick with a doorway cut in the middle. The white face of a huge stone Buddha peeks out at us.
            We hurry toward the opening in the wall. When I step through, I raise my hand to my mouth. It’s more of the same ruins as outside the wall, but somehow being enclosed by them makes it feel even more like I’ve gone back in time.
             The Buddha is maybe fifteen feet tall, its pale stone darkened in places by age or perhaps water damage. It sits on a raised platform. Carvings of people, their hands folded in supplication, run the length of it.
            “What do you think that’s for?” I ask.
            “Human sacrifice?” Tyson suggests again.
            I slug him in the arm. “You’re all about the human sacrifice today, huh?”
            “I could go back to thinking about what I usually think about.” He arches an eyebrow at me.
            I blush. This does not go unnoticed by Morgan, whose eyes narrow as she looks back and forth from Tyson to me. She doesn’t say anything though, instead motioning for me to pose with the Buddha so she can snap my picture.
            Clive and Virginia appear through the opening. Virginia mops some sweat from her forehead. “Brilliant,” she murmurs, pointing her camera in all directions.
            We leave the walled enclosure and see Pracha and the guided tour group across the clearing. He’s gesturing at a small lake. Flowering lily pads float in it. Beyond the group an even taller Buddha stands between a pair of pale brick towers.
            “Let’s check that one out,” I say.
            We cross the clearing and photograph this newer, bigger Buddha. There’s a stairway beyond it that seems to lead to nowhere. I turn toward it.
            Morgan waves a hand in front of her face. “I think I’m going to grab some shade,” she says. “I feel myself starting to burn again.”
            “Good idea,” Jed says. “Let’s go crash out by that pond for a bit.”
            They turn back toward the rest of the group, but Tyson has designs on climbing to the top of this staircase.
            “Wanna go up?” he asks me.
            My turn to arch an eyebrow. “Want to race?”
            He smirks. “Oh, someone’s got game all of a sudden?”
            “I’m better at stairs than swimming,” I say.
            We both take off up the steps and Tyson ends up winning—just by a little—but I don’t mind. At the top of the stairs is another platform, this one small and flat.
            “I’d ask what you think this was for,” I say. “But I know what you’ll say.”
            Tyson smiles, but doesn’t respond. Instead, he takes my hand and we both look out across the enclosure. Frederik and Staffan are snuggling on the grass near Morgan and Jed. Clive and Virginia are posing in front of a cross-legged Buddha while Mr. Chu takes their picture. The rest of the oldsters are sitting on benches or on the grass around the lily pond. None of them seem interested in ascending a hundred stairs just to sit on a flat platform that probably once held a temple or altar of some kind.
            The wind finds us up here, drying my sweat and whipping my hair around my face.
            “You’re beautiful, you know it?” Tyson says. “You look like you just conquered an entire civilization.”
            I turn toward him. My heart beats funny in my chest. I realize I’m nervous, but I don’t know exactly why. “Time for my human sacrifice,” I joke.
            Tyson shakes his head. “Not this place. This place is for something completely different.”
            I start to speak but my mouth has gone dry. I lick my lips, swallow hard. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
            “This.” Tyson lifts one hand to each of my cheeks. He tucks sweaty clumps of hair behind my ears. Bending low, he presses his lips to my forehead for a second. “I’m glad I met you.”
            I don’t know if it’s the strangeness of this place or the redness of the falling sun. I don’t know if it’s the softness of his touch or the peace behind his eyes. I don’t know what it is, but I throw my arms around his neck and pull him tight against me. Between us, a heart pounds, thick and fast. His, mine, ours together. I don’t know that either. But I know that I don’t want to leave this moment without kissing him.

Thanks for joining me on this blog tour! Experience the beauty of Thailand through the eyes of a tourist in THE KEY TO EVERYTHING. Right now you can get a Kindle copy for the introductory price of $2.99, but the price will go up soon. If you like romances that bring the heat, best friends who have each other’s backs, and main characters who grow and become better people, then you’ll love my first new adult novel.

ICYMI: I wanted to give away something authentically Thai to promote this book, so enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to choose between a wooden spirit shrine and an elephant print tote bag (or choice of purse up to $16.99 price from veradashop), both handmade in Thailand.


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