ARC Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

35297380American Panda by Gloria Chao

Pub. date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481499101
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Plot: Seventeen-year old Mei is a freshman at MIT, thanks to skipping fourth grade- all part of her parents’ master plan. This plan also includes Mei becoming a doctor, marrying a Taiwanese boy selected by her parents, and have a bunch of babies. Unfortunately, between her hatred of germs, her inability to stay awake during biology lectures, and a crush on her Japanese classmate Darren, Mei knows that she doesn’t want this future that her parents have planned and worked so hard for. When she reconnects with her estranged brother Xing, she begins to wonder whether it was worth keeping so many secrets from her parents, or if it was possible for her to find a way to live life on her terms. 

I think the Goodreads synopsis of this contemporary YA novel can be a little misleading. I went in expecting a hilarious romantic comedy of errors, but instead was hit with a plethora of intensely complicated emotional drama. Gloria delivers a very real story that is not uncommon in many Asian families. Mei is a strong narrator throughout the book, and I found myself getting caught up in her angst and conflicting emotions. She’s clearly experiencing a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance- wanting to make her parents happy and not let their sacrifices go for nought, while at the same time having ambitions and dreams of her own that are so far left field from what her parents have envisioned for her. While I didn’t grow up with parents as intense as Mei’s, my expat childhood was filled with a lot of these constant, conflicting desires. Gloria does an excellent job as portraying them for what they are- hardworking immigrant parents who’ve lived their lives holding firmly onto these perspectives and values and wanting their kids to have a secure future to the point where they’ve lost sight of personal happiness and their kids’ happiness, and the fact that the world and the country they live in is very different from the one they grew up in. Mei’s parents are very conservative and old-fashioned, ascribe to all manner of superstitions and beliefs, and yes, their love is conditional on their kids’ obedience- as evidenced by the fact that their son is estranged for falling in love with a non-parental-approved girl. I developed a certain appreciation for Mei’s mother, especially towards the end of the book. She’s a complex woman, her own story is sad and touching, and as a reader you’re definitely given some perspective on how the same cultural values and beliefs she upholds has had its effect on her own life. 

Mei’s character arc itself is really strongly written and great to follow- she goes from being the kid who is too scared and too sheltered to disobey her parents, to a person that accepts that in order to live her life on her terms she is going to have to be okay with disappointing them once in a while. Boy, is that a life lesson, and one that does not get easy over time (yes, this is indeed the voice of experience). Juxtaposing her passion for dance and her lack of interest in her pre-med courses is a really good choice in terms of the writing and helps with the progression of the story. It also really made me empathize with her emotional turmoil. I also absolutely loved that she’s a college student; that transitioning worldview and exposure to a plethora of ideas, experiences, and possibilities was one that I related to completely because I remember experiencing those things when I was 17 and had moved away from my parents for the first time. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking, and superbly depicted in the story. 

As for the other side characters: I adored her brother, and I was super invested in their relationship. Again, I could relate to that entire story arc on a personal level (not my immediate experience, but it’s happened within our family). You can still see how he does hang onto some of the values he was raised with, and it’s interesting to see how sometimes you can fall into the traps of sharing your parents’ thought processes even if you don’t mean to. Ying-Na serves as a reference for all the things that could happen if you choose to go against your conservative parents and community, and I really liked how she doesn’t just remain a caricature in the end. Darren is an adorable love interest, but I definitely appreciated that their romance was a secondary arc that was there to reinforce the primary narrative instead of taking over Mei’s story. 

Overall, this is an intense and emotional read. All the tiny pieces of the puzzle don’t miraculously fall into place in the end; these characters are all a work in progress, as in life, which I appreciate deeply. Unfortunately I didn’t write this review before my ARC expired but I think there’s a potentially amatonormative sentence in there somewhere that made me wince (don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember it. I’ll just have to wait for the finished copy to double-check). However, this novel is still deeply personal and Gloria’s voice and writing are an important addition to the Asian diaspora. Familial expectations versus following the path of uncertainty; undoubtedly, many will find a home, heart, and connection in it.




Wrap Up: January 2018

I’ve come across a lot of people in the last two days talk about how January was such a slow month for them, and I definitely do not fall in this bracket at all. January came by and went so fast, it took me a full five minutes this morning to realize we were already a whole month into 2018. I had a pretty busy month- hosted stragglers from our family reunion in the first couple of weeks, went away for a weekend to visit some more extended family, got back on some academic projects I’d taken a break from, got back onto my PT and walking routines, even blogged a bit, and kicked off the bookish year with a pretty successful round of #24in48

Thanks to the readathon, I’ve had a pretty successful start to my reading this year, and I’m immensely grateful:

Something I noticed in 2017 was that about 70% of my reading was digital, and it seems like that has carried over to January 2018. This primarily has to do with the fact that I borrow a lot of new releases in digital formats from the Chicago Public Library, and most of the comics I have access to are digital as well. I don’t know if I can actively resolve to read more physical books, so we’ll just see how the next few months go. 

As for my January reading, I’ve read 17 books by authors of color, which I’m pretty happy about. I feel like I’m slowly getting my audiobook mojo back thanks to PT and walking; I listened to 4 really good ones this past month. Twenty-two out of twenty-five books I enjoyed thoroughly, which is awesome. 

For February, I don’t have an official Black History Month TBR, but I have committed to participate in two photo challenges: Book Riot is back with #riotgrams and Didi aka Brown Girl Reading with #ReadSoulLit. The prompts seems fairly chill, so even though most of my books are in storage I think I can make it happen for at least half them. You can find my posts on both Instagram and Litsy, username: @theshrinkette.

So lovelies, how did your first month of the year go? What were your highlights, and what are you looking forward to in the near future? I’m listening.


January 29, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hi friends,

Wow, it’s been a week. I’ve not been this busy in a long time, and I’m definitely still getting super exhausted from days that are productive and busy but not even close to what used to be my threshold for busy in the past. Apparently my post-op body is still getting there, and I keep reminding myself that I am still only almost 6 months post-op major neuro surgery and recovery is slow, and it’s going to be a while before I can go back to that kind of workload.

Tl; dr I was too tired/did not make time to post anything on here since last Monday. 

Onto happier things; we’re just coming off of 24in48, and as per usual, it was a spectacular weekend. 1850 participants from all over the world, say whaaaaaaaaat? Absolutely stellar show from Rachel, Kerry, and Kristen, all of whom I adore dearly. Kudos on orchestrating a phenomenal and fun experience for everybody that took part. Remember, whether you read one book or 10, one hour or 24, you were a champ for carving out time in your busy, busy life to take part and peek into the giant, global bookish blanket fort that is a readathon, and you are allowed to feel good about that. 


I paced myself this time around; I managed to read for 24 hours, but didn’t read as much as I usually do. Through the week I only managed to finish Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann ( I’ll have a review coming out soon, that book affected me in unexpected ways). During readathon I read: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (absolutely stunning verse novel), Illegal Contact and Down By Contact, both by Santino Hassell (both on audio, which was an interesting experience, both super hot, and both roping in serious social issues and feels amidst the fluff. Also oh my god Noah), Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (satisfying end to the trilogy), Giant Days Volume 5 and Volume 6 ( I love these girls so much) by John Allison (Author), Max Sarin (Illustrator), Liz Fleming(Inker), Whitney Cogar (Colorist), and Jim Campbell (Letterer), and Winter by Ali Smith (my first time reading her work, her writing is absolutely gorgeous, this was unexpected and beautiful). I also got halfway through Trainwreck by Sady Doyle on audio. 

I am currently visiting some extended family but will be back home tomorrow afternoon. I don’t know if it’s my anxiety or the fact that my routine has been disrupted several times in the past couple of months with extended family times, but I just want to go back home asap so that I can get back to my walks and PT and cleaner eating habits and sleep in my own bed. It is possible I’ve become even more of an introvert in the last six months. 

On the reading roster for this week:

It’s very ambitious, I know, but this comprises of books I’m halfway through, books that need to go back to the library in two days, and ARCs that are already past their pub date. I do have a seven hour train journey tomorrow so I’m hoping to get a substantial amount of reading done on it. I am determined to get my Netgalley review percentage up to at least 80 in the first quarter of the year, so definitely making sure my currently reading pile includes a galley or two at all times.

That’s all from me, folks. Hope you have a glorious Monday and stellar week. 

If you participated in #24in48, link me to your posts, updates, Litsy/Instagram handles, or just share what you read, in the comments below. Or feel free to share what you’re looking forward to reading next. Or, ya know, non-bookish life updates. Talk to me!


January 22, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hey there!

So it’s already Tuesday here, but I’m doing an It’s Monday post anyway because I really want to keep up with them and well, it’s Monday somewhere. Wow, this past week flew by. We’re moving (again!) in a couple of months, and this time to what is going to be my parents’ permanent residence. Same city, just an apartment. So I’ve been going with them to mediate wallpaper choices, curtain matches, you get the idea. It’s fun for the first five minutes but it’s mostly exhausting. But, moving will mean I get to bust out all my books from storage and put them in some beautiful bookshelves, so I’ve got something to look forward to in the new crib. I also got to have an intentionally lazy Sunday after a weirdly hectic week, and it was absolutely glorious, to say the least. We all need those once in a while. 

First, general housekeeping. Most of you might be aware of this already, but for those who don’t- we are officially retiring Social Justice Book Club. Kerry was super nice to take me on as co-host in 2017, but it ended up being a tumultuous year for both of us on a lot of fronts, and we decided it was time to close this chapter. I will continue to be reading books that tackle social justice themes, as will Kerry, so feel free to chat about them with us all across social media. Like Kerry said, if there’s interest, we definitely did enough research to put out a couple of book lists on some of those topics.

Onto happier news, it’s time for my first readathon of the year! 24in48 is back this weekend, and boy I’m looking forward to a glorious bookish bubble. You know the gist- 24 hours of reading over a 48-hour weekend, with snacks and sleep and conversation. Now I will be traveling this weekend so I’m not making a proper TBR, just going with the flow, and I’m keeping to the official start and end times per usual. There’s also tons of prizes for both US and International readers, so go ahead, sign-up!

And finally, time to chat about books. Last week, I finished The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (heartwarming, quirky, made me tear up), Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (one of the best audiobook decisions I’ve made in a long time), The Vanderbeekers on 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (another enchanting tear-jerker), Rangoli by Pavana Reddy ( some impactful poetry), Fit (Fit #1) and Sated (Fit #3), both by Rebekah Weatherspoon (diverse and steamy novellas, oh my), and finally finished reading A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield (riveting subject matter, but so dry and such a struggle to read). So yeah, pretty happy with my reading week. 

On this week’s roster:


Keeping it down to three so that I can get some reviews out ( I’d really like my Netgalley review percentage to come up to that 80% as soon as possible), and hunker down for a weekend of intense reading. 

That’s all I’ve got, folks (and with less than two hours to spare before Monday ends in PST, ha!). Don’t forget to sign-up for 24in48. Whether you read for 2 hours or 24, half a book or 7, it’s just feels good to be one with your people for a weekend. I’ll be posting updates on Litsy and Instagram for sure (@theshrinkette on both of those).

If you’re participating, let me know in the comments section, and link me to your sign-up posts, TBRs, Litsy and IG handles, etc. Also, what are you reading this week?



ARC Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed


Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Pub. date: January 16th, 2018
Publisher: Soho Teen  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781616958473
Source: Edelweiss

Thanks so much to Edelweiss and Soho Teen for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: Anti-Islamic verbal statements and incidents, domestic terrorism, bullying, physical assault, suicide bombing, kissing

Plot: Seventeen-year old Maya Aziz is your not-so-average teenager straddling the line between two worlds; one where she’s expected to be the good Indian daughter to conservative Indian parents, well-mannered, possessing decent culinary skills, and on her way to college to become a lawyer, and the other where she goes to film school in New York City, and maybe kiss this white boy she’s been crushing on for a while now. She’s busy living her life with her best friend Violet, sneaking off to spend time with the crush, and making documentaries, when an act of domestic terrorism results in absolute upheaval in Maya’s life. 

I often hear readers complain about how contemporary fiction can sometimes be too predictable, falling into a few standard tropes with the players dressed in different costumes, lacking imagination and the ability to draw them in. Well, I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with this book. Sure, there’s teens, there’s angst, there’s conflict, a plethora of emotions, but Samira Ahmed has managed to deliver a gorgeous coming-of-age story that doesn’t necessarily cater to the formula. She’s done such a great job combining the fluff, the angst, and serious relevant issues, drawing the reader into what turns out to be a very compelling novel. 

Maya as a protagonist and narrator is such a wonderfully developed character. She has super conservative Indian parents, and Her relationship with them resonates with (I think) a lot of diasporic Indian kids- parents who worked extremely hard and made sacrifices to ensure their kids have good lives, parents who want their kids to have steady and secure futures, who are afraid that their kids not growing up in their homeland means that all their morals and values will be lost, parents who want to keep their only child close by because they’re hesitant of the world they will have to send them into, and parents who rebelled for their own life choices and then turned around and promptly became the same naysayers the previous generations were, because they’re conditioned to react that way to new experiences. All of the best interests at heart but unable to recognize that their children are growing up in an environment so different from their own and navigating their own challenges. These traits can seem like stereotypes of Asian parents, but to me they were written and portrayed from such an honest perspective, and several times I felt such empathy for Maya. My parents don’t share all of those qualities, but they most certainly fall into several of these archetypes. It’s always simultaneously comforting and frustrating to see this represented so accurately, especially in YA fiction- teen me would definitely have benefited from reading books like this one. This again, is not necessarily representative of all Indian parents (we’re not a monolith), so I’m sure these characters arcs will resonate with some and not with others.

Besides her complicated relationship with her family, Maya is an ambitious girl with big passions, which is so great to see. Film-making is clearly not just a hobby, but her passion, and her tenacity is evident by the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to make it happen for her. I’m a big fan of ambitious teens of color who are unapologetic about their passion. They’re unabashedly nerdy about this thing that they love and determined to figure ways to make it happen for them, it’s very affirming.

An integral portion of this book is how it tackled anti-Islamic rhetoric and events, and this is where it shines without turning into just an “issue” book. Throughout the novel are tiny microaggressions interspersed in the narrative (and appropriately challenged), all leading up to the tumultuous event that casts a dark shadow on this small town. A brutally honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a Muslim in America in the aftermath of an incident of domestic terrorism. Maya’s own reactions and experiences, as well as that of her family’s, how it affects their relationship with each other, their choices, their fears, and how they’re viewed in the eyes of their small community- Samira delivers with gut-punching accuracy. This makes it such an important book, not just in terms of representing Indian-American Muslims, but a book that should be read by those outside that community, and give them some food for thought on how they could be complicit in maintaining such a rhetoric and how they can be solid allies. 

As for the romance and the side-characters, these were equally well-done. There’s a bit of a love triangle early in the book that’s resolved quickly, and the romance is pretty cute for the most part(bit of an overkill with the mentions of Phil’s dimple, but hey, that’s an alloromantic thing you can’t avoid I guess). Her friendship with Violet is just awesome (love me a supportive best friend all day everyday). Hina is the aunt that dreams are made of, what an amazingly supportive parental figure and buffer. The dual narrative was fine, I don’t think it did much for the story, but it didn’t get in the way either. 

All in all, an absolutely emotional and gratifying story. Samira’s prose is gorgeous, and Maya’s wit and sarcasm is brilliant and cracked me up throughout the book. Full of nuance, with the ability to kickstart several important conversations among readers, Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a well-rounded and gripping debut. 

P. S. In case you’re looking for some #ownvoices reviews of this book, I’m linking both Fadwa and Maha‘s reviews for further reading. 



January 15, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Happy New Year, friends!

Wow. WOW. What a year. Phew. Sometimes I laugh when I think about how terrible I thought 2016 was ’cause boy, 2017 was a humdinger. Never in my life have a been happier for a year to be over. 

If there’s anything 2017 taught me, it was not to make elaborate, overly ambitious plans because you never know when one thing could happen that sends all your plans down the drain. You’d think that’s a super obvious life lesson but I’ll be the first to admit it took me 2017 to actually comprehend what it looks and feels like. 

I spectacularly failed all of my reading and blogging goals for 2017 because so much life happened, and I’ve entered 2018 with a super low-key, attempted zen attitude. I’m not participating in any reading challenges this year- no Read Harder, no Goodreads goal, no Litsy A to Z, no Reading Women challenge, nothing. In truth, I’m a little burnt out on reading challenges, and I’ve realized I pretty much read diversely regardless of challenges, so I’m forcing myself to take a break from them this year and see where my moods take me. Likewise, I don’t have any specific blogging goals this year, and I’m already noticing that I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing posts and reviews as opposed to dreading them. That feels really good. 

Now, to the actual reading I’ve done so far. I read and loved Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (what a brilliant writer), Halsey Street by Naima Coster (stellar debut), Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano (absolutely delightful), The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (superb multigenerational novel), We Go Forward by Alison Evans (sweet friendship story), and Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (I’ll be shouting from the rooftops about this book for the rest of the year).

Only two books I’ve read thus far have been a bit disappointing: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (I think we can blame the hype for this one), and Bad for the Boss: A BWAM Office Romance (Just For Him Book 1) by Talia Hibbert (questionable consent in erotica novels always makes me itchy). 

On the roster for this week: 

I started Furiously Happy on audio a couple of days ago and The Music Shop last night and I’m really liking both so far. I’m struggling a little to get through A Few Red Drops; the subject matter is interesting but the writing isn’t engaging. I’ll start the other two later this week once I finish a sensitivity read that I need to get done. 

That’s all I’ve got going on for now. I’m excited to do It’s Monday posts again because it’s a great way to check-in and gives me chance to chat with you all about books and other things. So, how are you? How did your 2017 go? What are you looking forward to the most in 2018? Last, but not the least, what are you reading these days? 


ARC Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

35995770Halsey Street by Naima Coster 

Pub. date: January 1st, 2018
Publisher: Little A Books 
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781503941175
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Little A Books for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Plot: Penelope Grand is a young black failing artist who moves back home from Pittsburg to take care of her ailing father, Ralph. Her old neighborhood has been gentrified and taken over by affluent white people, and her mother Mirella left them to return to the Dominican Republic. So when Penny moves into the attic of the wealthy Harpers, she hopes for some semblance of family again. But a postcard arrives from Mirella, who is seeking reconciliation, and Penny’s world is once again turned upside down as old wounds are reopened, secrets are spilled, and she sets on a path of self-discovery. 

It is the mark of a good book that has you still thinking about it days after you’ve finished reading it, and Halsey Street certainly fits the bill. For what comes across as a simple plot, Coster has by no means presented us with a simple novel. Layers upon layers upon layers are available for the reader’s contemplation. 

The novel’s told from the perspective of both the Grand women- Penny and Mirella. Penny is a millennial who is flawed, vulnerable, and pragmatic. From her perspective, we are witness to a changed Brooklyn, the very real effects of gentrification- in the houses, the murals, the schools, the walls, her disdain for the mother that abandoned her, while Ralph Grand keeps his home as a shrine, unchanged from when she’d left it, while he drinks his days away hoping for Mirella to return. Her vulnerability is seen in her yearning and interactions when she stays with the Harpers, seeking connection and love. Through Mirella’s eyes we see how she and Ralph met, the changes in their relationship as Ralph focused on his record store, her gradually deteriorating relationship with Penny, how she felt in Brooklyn and the events that led to her departure, and her life in DR and how she makes it her own without being an extension of somebody else’s life. When Mirella writes to Penny seeking reconciliation, Penny is not immediately forgiving, a lot of stuff comes up for the both of them (together and separately), and we get to see where both women choose to go from there. 

Coster has portrayed gentrification as a metaphor for broken families, and her execution of this is what makes this novel so phenomenal. You see it in Penny’s observations of the neighborhood, the school she teaches at, the rich white Harpers who are her landlord, and Ralph, who is a relic of old Brooklyn. She brings nuance into the conversation by inserting conversations of race, gender, and class- in Mirella’s chapters we see how she felt that Ralph and his friends never saw her as equal, and how her opinions on art and music and such were never taken seriously. Coster;s narrative power comes through also in her demonstrations of gentrification and its effects rather than statements of it. For instance, there’s a particular scene where Penny meets a classic white-pro-gentrifier Marty, who makes a statement about the neighborhood being a “blank canvas” with a plethora of possibilities, to which Penny rails back with a poignant speech on the literal erasure of the neighborhood and its systematic removal of working-class black people. 

Halsey Street is an evocative and thought-provoking novel, one that will keep you thinking for days, and Coster is a fresh and talented voice. The writing complexity with a seemingly simple plot make this novel an absolute standout piece of literary fiction, and I’m looking forward to read more of her work in the future. Do not miss out on this one.