Hello friends! April was a lucky month for me, as I found not one, but two new favorites right after each other. Even better, they are YA Contemporaries, which is a genre I’ve been struggling with for a while. (Although, to be fair, I’ve said “I’m struggling with the genre but look what a cool book I found!” so many times that I’m not even struggling with the genre anymore?)
Today, I’m going to share these two diverse, incredible titles with you, and I hope to convince you to read and support them, as they deserve all the love and hype.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
by Wai Chim
Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.
But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.
🌸 The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling does an incredible job of showing the complexities of family; the good, the bad, the middle-ground, everything. The characters argue and make mistakes and occasionally say hateful things to each other, but at the end of the day, they love each other so deeply. Brb, I’m weeping in the corner.
“No matter what you hear, no matter what bad things they say. Remember that we love you and we are here to fight for you. We will fight the bad things, we will fight the shadows together. We are your family.”
🌸 There’s a significant emphasis on Anna’s relationship with her mom, but – for me – the most beautiful, heart-wrenching relationship Anna had was with her sister, Lily. They bicker and argue, but they were there for each other when it became necessary. Oh, and their little brother, Michael? One of the most precious characters ever.
🌸 Anna’s budding romance with Rory, her father’s new delivery boy, was peak-adorable. I loved seeing them grow closer as the story progressed, and the way they slowly opened up to each other had me beaming. They were utterly perfect for each other, they fit together.
🌸 Wai Chim writes about mental health in a raw and honest way, she shows how it is an on-going struggle, but she is nonetheless able to cover her readers (and characters) in a warm blanket of hope.
“It is my future. And I’m looking forward to it.”
🌸 If you would like to learn more about the mental health and the Chinese-Australian representation, I recommend reading Jeann’s excellent Own Voices review by clicking here.
🌸 Trigger warnings: depression, (emotional) abuse, mention of physical abuse and discussion of suicide.
Only Mostly DEVASTATED
by Sophie Gonzales
Will Tavares is the dream summer fling―he’s fun, affectionate, kind―but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairy tale ending, and to complicate the fairy tale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted―and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.
Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.
The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.
🌸 As one of my – if not my – favorite novels of April, I knew I needed to review Only Mostly Devastated. It’s a light, modernized re-imagining of Grease, recommended for fans, newcomers, and even to haters of Grease. It’s just that good.
🌸 The novel highlights the power of friendship. Ollie discovers new friends upon arriving to his new school, and the way his friendship with the girls progressed stole my heart. However, it also shows how stifling and suffocating it can be to belong to a friend group that does not seem to respect your identity. For Will, his friends are a huge hindrance in the way of him coming out, and how he struggled because of that was difficult to watch.
🌸 The same can be said regarding the family of our main characters. Ollie’s family is incredibly supportive, while Will cannot imagine how his traditional family would react to having a bisexual son. I believe Gonzales put a lot of thought and effort into writing these families, and I particularly appreciated the way Will’s was written towards the end of the novel.
“Mama, Ollie taught me how to play ‘Let It Go’ on guitar,” Crista piped up in a muffled voice as she pulled her pajama shirt over her head. Aunt Linda shot me a look that was half sheer terror, half witch hunt. The face of someone at peak Frozen saturation. I didn’t, I swear, I mouthed, making chopping motions by my neck.”
🌸 Speaking of family, I need to rave a bit about Ollie’s because his parents, aunt, uncle and their kids were such a massive and incredible part of his life. Their love for each other was palpable, and the kids, you guys, the kids!! They stole my heart.
🌸 Trigger warnings: homophobia, biphobia, cancer, death
Have you read either of these novels? Are you planning on reading them? (Cause you should!) Who is your favorite and/or the most complex bookish family you’ve ever read about?