Book Review

The Astonishing Color of Enlightenment

The Astonishing Color of AfterThe Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Book Group, for giving me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There’s no point in wishing. We can’t change anything about the past. We can only remember. We can only move forward.

Last December, many K-pop fans (myself included) were distraught when SHINee’s Jonghyun committed suicide. Following this tragedy, EXO’s Baekhyun was criticized for saying that he didn’t know why people get depressed. These events in the K-pop world piqued my interest and made me realize that depression isn’t something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially now that more and more people in Asia are falling into its dangerous clutches. Since I personally haven’t experienced depression or had suicidal thoughts, books like this provide an opportunity for vicarious learning. When I read such literature, I look for enlightenment, not entertainment. Hence, although 462 pages seems to long for a YA contemporary novel, I am glad that I pushed through.

The Astonishing Color of After is primarily a melancholic book. In fact, most of the blurbs at the back have the word “grief.” It is about a girl named Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. Strangely, Leigh believes that her mother has turned into a bird. After Leigh finds her mother’s suicide note, she travels to Taiwan in order to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh reminisces about her past, tries to find the mysterious bird, and gradually unveils the painful secrets of her family. In totality, this book is both literally and figuratively heavy.

One reason why I enjoyed this book is that it reiterated the biological aspect of depression. As a Christian, I used to believe that depression was mostly spiritual in nature. With that in mind, reading this book made me acknowledge the fallibility of this idea. After all, if depression were only a spiritual problem, it couldn’t be cured or managed by modern medicine. In the book, Leigh’s mom underwent various kinds of therapy that made her feel better by altering the chemical composition of her brain. Research has proven that people with depression generally have lower levels of happy hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin. Thus, it would be foolish and unfair to assume that depressed people have something wrong with their faith or spiritual lives. Doing so could even be a form of ableism. Yes, my Christianity makes me experience life in a different way. But I don’t believe that it makes me immune to depression. I actually have a friend who suffers from depression, and it makes me sad that he/she was ostracized by some of the members of her own church. With all that said, I am grateful that this book taught me that we shouldn’t judge people with depression, an illness that has so many layers.

Another reason why I liked TACOA is that it exposed me to Chinese/Taiwanese culture. Aside from numerous descriptions of food, there were discussions on death, marriage, and more. Thus, this book made me hungry for food and information. I currently don’t have the means to travel to foreign countries, so I’m glad that books like this enable me to experience different cultures from the comfort of my bed. Hahaha. Chinese culture already thrives here in the Philippines, but I would love to experience it in its purest form by visiting China someday.

The last reason for my enjoyment has something to do with this thing called love. I mentioned before that TACOA is a melancholic book, but don’t worry because there are actually some light and fluffy parts. I was particularly fond of the chapters featuring Axel, Leigh’s best friend. I’ve always been a fan of the best-friends-to-lovers trope (because it prevents any case of instalove), and the author utilized it almost perfectly. Still, it would’ve been better if Axel hadn’t offended my feminist sensibilities by using a certain girl as a so-called distraction.

Looking back, the main problem that I had with this book was its color-related metaphors. In this regard, the writing reminded me of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval. Leigh and Axel were very gifted artists, and they had this thing of conveying their emotions by naming very unfamiliar colors. For example, jealousy was this special kind of green, guilt was this shade of orange, etc. You can just read the book’s title if you don’t get what I’m trying to say. It takes a lot of imagination to comprehend the color of “after” and other abstract concepts.

Despite the latter complaint, I highly recommend The Astonishing Color of After because it gave me an enlightening reading experience. It’s a book that can start discussions on topics that people usually avoid: depression and suicide. Also, it introduces readers to the beauty of Asian/Chinese culture. If anything, the sweet romance is just a bonus. Overall, kudos to another contemporary novel with very meaningful and relevant content.

P.S. Other noteworthy virtues of TACOA include:

1. Diversity (Leigh is half-Chinese and Axel is half-Filipino)
2. Heartwarming family dynamics
3. Magical plot twists

Book Review

The Way You Disappoint Me

The Way You Make Me FeelThe Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

People who would be there for you even when you messed up and behaved like a jerk? They were the good stuff.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has noticed that people of color (e.g. Koreans, Filipinos, and more) are becoming popular in literature nowadays. Readers continue to crave for more diverse books, whether it be in regards to race, religion, and more. With that in mind, books like this are nice because they can make all kinds of readers feel represented.

By looking at the pretty cover, one can easily deduce that The Way You Make Me Feel is about an Asian girl. It follows Clara Shin, who is both Korean and Brazilian. She is particularly famous (or infamous) for her ability to cause mayhem and piss people off. After Clara gets into a catfight with her African-American nemesis named Rose Carver, both of them are obliged to spend the whole summer working on Clara’s dad’s food truck, the KoBra. They continue to get on each other’s nerves but eventually realize that it is possible for them to be friends. To make things more interesting, Hamlet, a hunky, Chinese barista nearby, seems to be crushing on Clara. Get ready to be entertained by a story of family, love, and friendship.

For the most part, this book was a fun read. I gave 3.5 stars to I Believe in a Thing Called Love last year, so I expected to have a similar reading experience. Unsurprisingly, I encountered the same virtues: diverse characters, beautifully simple writing, and touching family dynamics. I also didn’t have a hard time finishing this book because the content was very easy to process or take in.

I particularly loved the close relationship between Clara and her dad, Adrian. Adrian practically raised Clara on his own. Jules was an Instagram celebrity who couldn’t stay in one country, so she wasn’t very involved in raising Clara. Hence, it was interesting that Clara seemed to favor her mom, who clearly didn’t prioritize the right things. There wasn’t supposed to be any competition, but I was on Adrian’s side all the way because he never made Clara feel neglected. He was a permissive parent at the beginning of the book, but thankfully, he became wiser and stricter. At the end, Clara couldn’t have asked for a better dad.

Clara and Rose’s hate-to-love relationship was also fascinating. I was surprised that even worst enemies could become best friends. After spending much time together, they learned to understand and accept each other. I didn’t feel sad at all that Clara decided to “ditch” her old “friends” who only brought out the worst in her.

As for the romance between Clara and Hamlet, it was sweet but instalovey. Even Rose thought so! Haha. She was shocked to learn that Clara and Hamlet became a couple after just one date. LOL. Looking on the bright side, it was nice that Hamlet did not pressure Clara to confess her love for him. According to Hamlet, they would follow “Clara Time,” not “Hamlet Time”. That was such a cute and feminist thing to say.

The only problem I had with this book was…Clara. She was super annoying, especially at the beginning of the book. In fact, she was the one who made me understand the concept of girl hate because she had nothing but derogatory things to say about the females she encountered. And she had a public altercation with Rose, for crying out loud. Clara wasn’t this mean or aggressive to any of the male characters, so I couldn’t help but describe her attitude as a manifestation of girl hate. With that in mind, it was a miracle that she was able to make a best friend out of Rose.

Furthermore, it bugged me that Clara kept on comparing Hamlet to a dog. Chinese people are kinda known for their willingness to eat dogs, so go figure. 😦 I’m not sure if this counts as racism. Thus, please correct me if I’m wrong. Is it okay for Asians to be racist to fellow Asians? Ugh. Whatever.

Overall, I liked reading The Way You Make Me Feel mainly because of its emphasis on family dynamics. Still, in retrospect, some of its themes/aspects were contradictory (e.g. female friendship and girl hate, racial diversity and racism). If you loved I Believe in a Thing Called Love, you might be disappointed in this book. I hope that you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

Book Review

Just a Little Sign Language

A Quiet Kind of ThunderA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All I need is just a little sign language. Show me that you’re mine, baby. And say what you wanna say.

—Dylan Gardner

This book was my second contemporary read (in 2017) concerning mental illness, and I am happy to say that I liked it very much. The premise itself was intriguing: a selectively mute girl forming a bond with a deaf boy. One would expect the story to implode with all kinds of infamous tropes (e.g. instalove and romanticized mental illness), but I actually found it to be educational, substantial, and refreshing.

British Sign Language (BSL) played an important role in A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Given the characters communicative impairments, BSL was primarily what they used to talk to each other. With that in mind, I really enjoyed the dialogues between Steffi and Rhys. The author enriched their conversations by helpfully explaining how to sign particular words and phrases, and I applauded her for doing so. It made me think about my father back home, who is (or used to be) adept at American Sign Language. I fondly remembered the days he taught me how to finger spell each letter of the alphabet. xD In other words, I liked this aspect of the novel because it rekindled my childlike interest in silent speech.

Another strength of this novel was its meaningful content. Interestingly, it explored the dichotomy of the “Speaking World” and the “Non-speaking World.” To simply put it, I enjoyed how the author debunked the stereotypes “normal” people have against those who are deaf or mute. I was sad whenever Steffi and Rhys felt alienated from others, including their own loved ones. Still, it was inspiring how they managed to find their own voice in spite of the ignorant and insensitive people around them.

I would have given this book five stars if I wasn’t perturbed by the values of the characters, especially their attitude towards sex. I was particularly offended by Steffi’s subtle mockery of chastity. I do not condemn fictional characters who are non-conservative, but it’s a different matter when they attack my own beliefs. This criticism is clearly subjective, but my conscience would bother me endlessly if I keep it to myself.

In the end, A Quiet Kind of Thunder lived up to its title. It’s characters were indeed quiet, yet the message of their story resonated in my mind like thunder: do not look down on those who are deaf or mute, because their condition does not prevent them from achieving a happy and purposeful life.

Book Review

Best Friend, or Worst Enemy?

All That WasAll That Was by Karen Rivers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is maybe a fungus that has woven me to Piper. Piper is the fungus, invading my roots. It’s more parasitic than that.

Last night, my brother asked me why I looked so serious while reading this book. I was tempted to laugh, but my contemplative mood prevented me from doing so. All That Was deals with a lot of heavy topics, so don’t mistake it for a typical contemporary novel. Out of the four books I’ve already read this year, it’s actually the most enlightening.

All That Was is the melancholic story of Piper and Sloane, two girls who have been best friends since childhood. Indoctrinated by the Feminist movement, they vow to abstain from boys and any kind of romantic attachment. Surprisingly, Piper snags herself a boyfriend named Philip (a.k.a. Soup), who happens to be Sloane’s long-time crush. When Piper mysteriously dies, Sloane and Soup are stricken with guilt. After all, the last thing Piper saw before her death was the two of them kissing.

I primarily enjoyed this book because it made me reflect upon the complexity and true meaning of friendship. Piper and Sloane were indeed best friends, but they certainly weren’t good for each other. In fact, their relationship was dysfunctional to the point that it bordered on codependency. Honestly, Piper was a terrible, terrible friend. I have three reasons for my opinion.

First, she wanted Sloane to feel ashamed of her purity. Piper practically forced Sloane to give away her virginity to a stranger, claiming that it was Feminist to take charge and objectify boys. Also, Piper believed that her friendship with Sloane would be strained if they didn’t have the same “hymen condition”. Sloane constantly expressed her misgivings, but Piper didn’t listen to her. To make things worse, when Sloane felt like she was raped, Piper said, “You didn’t say no.” In other words, Piper was a fan of rape culture (i.e. blaming the victim).

Second, Piper made a move on Soup even though she knew that Sloane liked him first. With that in mind, the love triangle in this book was stressful because it was born out of betrayal. If my best friend and I happened to like the same girl, I definitely wouldn’t callously court her at the expense of my best friend’s feelings.

Third, Piper was talented at discouraging Sloane. I highlighted the passages where Piper “teasingly” called Sloane boring and criticized her passion for filmmaking. I really couldn’t imagine what possessed Piper to make her so insensitive and mean to her own best friend. It was a wonder that Sloane put up with her for so long.

Hence, I didn’t feel so bad that Piper was dead. I was so annoyed with her that “Good riddance!” popped up in my head every now and then. Piper and Sloane’s friendship wasn’t healthy, especially for Sloane. It sucked that she was willing to sacrifice her happiness in order to avoid losing Piper’s favor. Ugh. I would never want to have a friend whose purpose in life was to make me miserable.

Although I obviously hated Piper, I was glad that she encouraged me to evaluate my own relationships with people. Is there any way you can be sure that all of your friendships are genuine? If any of them is tainted by emotional abuse, it’s probably better to say good-bye. Humans are indeed made for relationships, but we must always remember to choose our friends wisely.

I also enjoyed this book because of its Feminist discourse. Before I read it, I didn’t give much thought to rape culture (I actually had to Google its definition). It’s absurd how rape victims nowadays are sometimes said to be “asking for it”. Those who want to absolve lustful men of guilt are despicable. All That Was made me realize that the world would be a better place if people stopped justifying or trivializing rape.

My sole complaint was the writing style, which was characterized by an abundance of run-on sentences. As someone who works in the ESL industry, it was difficult for me to ignore such a…sin. Hahaha. Since many sentences (independent clauses) were connected by “and,” the clarity of the writing was often compromised. I knew that the writing style was meant to reflect the freedom of human thought, but there were times that my brain couldn’t keep up with the continuous flow of ideas within a single paragraph.

Nevertheless, I genuinely liked All That Was. I highly recommend it because of its well-developed characters and very insightful content. People who aren’t Grammar Nazis will surely enjoy it more than I did. 😀

Book Review

Soon to Be a Satisfactory YA Contemporary

Now a Major Motion PictureNow a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Sourcebooks Fire, for giving me an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’d read her story and began drowning in a loss I’d never known was mine. My grandmother was a brilliant author—and I’d never read her books.

Now a Major Motion Picture is marketed as something that fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl will enjoy. It’s been a few years since I read the latter book, but I can say that the blurb is true to an extent. NAMMP, like Fangirl, features excerpts from a completely original fantasy novel. However, NAMMP is less impactful and more focused on fan culture, particularly in regards to book to movie adaptations. With that in mind, remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Otherwise, you might feel a little disappointed.

The premise of NAMMP is actually unique compared to most of the YA contemporary novels I’ve read this year. It follows Iris Thorne, a girl who wants nothing to do with her late grandmother’s popular book series. Despite her protests, Iris is sent to Ireland for the film adaptation of Elementia. She yearns for the film to become a commercial failure, but the possibility of finding love, friendship, and her musical identity gradually shakes her resolve. By the end of the film’s production, she might have to say good-bye to her “Jaded Iris” title.

The first thing I liked about this book was its depiction of fan culture. It was easy for me to relate to how the hardcore fans of Elementia feared that the film would deviate too much from the book series. It is an undeniable fact that although we bookworms love to see our beloved characters come to life on screen, we are rarely pleased by book to movie adaptations. We just can’t help but see the creative license of the film industry as a catalyst for bookish sacrilege. xD

It was also fascinating that NAMMP explored the “dark side” of fandom: it can cause people to emotionally or physically harm others. Iris did have a lot issues about Elementia, but the underlying reason for her hatred was justified. Her life would have been less complicated if a delusional fan hadn’t terrorized her baby brother.

Another thing I enjoyed was the book’s enlightening discussion of sexism in the film industry. Cate, the director of Elementia, was underestimated because of her sex. Her production company was very patriarchal, so it was more than willing to cut her budget or cancel the film (which was supposedly a Feminist take on Lord of the Rings). Thankfully, Cate refused to back down, determined to prove that women were a force to be reckoned with in both film and literature.

My problem with NAMMP was something that I had already encountered in many contemporary books: the Bad Parent(s) trope. Iris’s dad was a complete jerk, while her mom was almost nonexistent. Iris’s dad was practically the antagonist in the story because he was a fountain of stress and resentment. In light of his undignified attitude, I wasn’t surprised that Iris and Ryder treated him like he was anything but their parent. Personally, I really dislike it when contemporary books portray parents as the bad guys because it doesn’t promote a healthy understanding of family life. Some people may say that this trope simply reflects reality because there are many bad parents in the world. Still, what’s the point of further discouraging readers?

In totality, I gave NAMMP 3.5 stars because it was both fun and enlightening to read. If you are interested in literary discussions on fan culture and Feminism, you should give this book a shot. Just tread carefully if you are triggered by the Bad Parent(s) trope.

Book Review

A Game of Tentative Hatred

The Hating GameThe Hating Game by Sally Thorne

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Every game you’ve ever played has been to engage with him. Talk to him. Feel his eyes on you. To try to make him notice you.

When I first saw this book in one of my local bookstores, I was immediately attracted to the following things:

1. The cute cover
2. The unique title
3. The protagonist who also happened to be named Josh (#Biased)

However, the price kept on pushing me away. I did not want to pay 15 dollars for a paperback. I was finally persuaded to read The Hating Game after I watched Sophia’s review on BookTube. She compared the novel to the popular works of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, so I wanted to validate such generous praise. Little did I know that I would be savoring this book like candy.

From the get-go, I want to emphasize that The Hating Game is not the best contemporary novel out there. In fact, it’s full of cliches that normally render me jaded. You don’t even have to read the entire book to know how it ends. Plot-wise, I’m sorry to say that this book is downright predictable.

So what makes The Hating Game special and worthwhile? It’s the characters. The hilarious, adorable, and “shippable” Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman. If you’re fond of sarcastic, witty, and well-developed characters, then this OTP will brighten your day. Lucy has a tendency to be pathetic and annoying, but her playful and intuitive personality will eventually grow on you. As for Josh, I somehow understand why female readers claim him as their fictional boyfriend. He’s practically described to be the epitome of masculine perfection, so good luck finding your own Doctor Josh in real life.

In the end, I assure you that my 15 dollars did not go to waste. Lucy and Josh’s story isn’t that original, but it will fill you to the brim with happy feels. Given this book’s giggle-inducing content, I suggest reading it in private. Otherwise, you might suffer in humiliation as people question your sanity.

Book Review


#famous#famous by Jilly Gagnon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know exactly what you want. Exactly who you are. You don’t care what anyone thinks about you. —Kyle

I was so excited to get my hands on this book when it came out. I literally hunted for it in my local bookstores. The catalyst behind my excitement was most likely the cute cover. Plus, I was in the mood for a fluffy yet meaningful YA contemporary.

#famous primarily explores how love can blossom in a typical high school setting wherein popularity is everything that matters. Unsurprisingly, the mean jocks and cheerleaders are at the top of the social hierarchy, while the plain-looking nerds are at the bottom. You don’t have to guess where Kyle and Rachel belong. Regardless of its lack of originality, I suppose this book was intriguing because it was inspired by a real human phenomenon: Alex of Target, an ordinary boy who suddenly became popular when a girl published a cute photo of him online.

It is easy for me to enumerate the things I liked about #famous. I enjoyed the simplistic writing, the short chapters, the dynamics within Rachel’s family, as well as the insightful depiction of social media. I honestly think that this book can be used as an effective cure for a reading slump; it’s possible to read it in just one sitting.

However, it is much easier for me to rant about this book’s shortcomings. The romance was lackluster and even instalovey; Rachel was annoyingly insecure, Kyle was frustratingly insensitive (or naive?), and the author had this weird way of using colons every now and then. Most importantly, this book disappointed me because I found it hard to relate to the protagonists, who kept on making small problems big. Come to think of it, most of the drama in this book was actually pointless.

Taking all of these in consideration, I felt moderately happy about this book. It was cute, entertaining, and quite insightful. However, overall, it was not on par with my favorite contemporary novels. I probably would have loved this book during my early bookworm days. I, therefore, give #famous solid 3 stars.