American Panda by Gloria Chao
Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Pushed into early graduation, Mei Lu is an uncertain freshman at MIT. Her unyielding Taiwanese immigrant parents’ plans for her are clear: medical school followed by marriage to a fellow Taiwanese doctor. Unfortunately, Mei is a germaphobe whose passion is dance, and she does the unthinkable by falling for an unacceptable Japanese boy.
Outwardly, Mei is the obedient and studious daughter following the life plan laid out by her traditional parents. However, inside she is slowly dying under the weight of guilt from the lies she must hide during her weekly dinners with them: her dance class, her crush on Darren, and her secret meetings with her disowned older brother. Mei faces an impossible choice: unhappiness with the life tradition dictates or contentment with her own American dream. Must her life be so black or white?
Mei’s wonderful voice shines through with wicked humor and unexpected profanity. Her metaphors for life using Chinese food are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Teens will relate to Mei’s struggles with coming-of-age themes. This character-driven book focuses on Mei’s journey to find harmony between tradition and independence; however, Mei’s observations of her mother growing beyond a stereotype strengthen the narrative.
Recommend this to teens who enjoyed Erika Sanchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter or who are struggling to find a balance between parental expectations and their own dreams. Fans of the TV show Fresh Off the Boat will also enjoy it.
The Truth Beneath the Lies by Amanda Searcy
Publication Date: December 12, 2017
Two different girls in two different parts of the country, with two very different lives. Only one of them can survive. Betsy lives in a border town and has a black burner phone that she carries with her at all times. Kayla lives in Washington, struggling to both hold down a regular job and manage her complicated relationship with her addict mother. Things rapidly escalate when girls in Kayla’s neighborhood are found murdered, one by one. And then Betsy’s phone starts to ring. And ring. And ring…
Nothing is how it appears in the worlds of these two very different girls and that’s a large part of what makes this story so good. Fast-paced and gritty, the constant twists and turns will keep the reader on the edge of their seat and up late at night. The characters are well-developed and poignantly human, without falling into the realm of caricature or stereotype. Teens will especially relate to the complexity of familial relationships, especially when one of the family members is struggling with a very real and relevant problem like drug addiction.
If readers are fans of surprise plot twists, suspense, and complex relationships, they will gravitate to this title. Especially recommended for fans of suspenseful reads like Far From You and One of Us Is Lying.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mom, Ella have been running from bad luck for as long as she can remember. They finally stop running when they receive news that Alice’s grandmother, Althea, the famous author of the gruesome Hinterland fairy tales, has died. When Ella is abducted from their home, Alice suspects her late grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood, may hold the answers to Ella’s disappearance. Alice goes in search of the Hazel Wood with Ellery Finch, a boy from school, to find out more about Althea, whom she had always been forbidden to meet. Along the way, Alice and Finch begin to wonder if Althea’s twisted stories are real and what other secrets and deception they will find on their search for answers.
The Hazel Wood is a dark and whimsical tale about choosing one’s family for love, not blood ties. The intricate world-building and disturbing tone will entice readers into the nefarious fairy tale world that is the Hinterland. Teens will appreciate that this is not a love story, but a tale about survival and self-discovery.
Once Upon a Time fans will love the fractured fairy tale aspects of the story, while fans of the TV show Supernatural will enjoy the haunting feel and monster filled suspense sprinkled throughout the book. Fans of the graphic novel Through the Woods by Emily Carroll will appreciate the similar sinister tone found in The Hazel Wood.