Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Jen Wang does it again with Stargazing!

Stargazing, by Jen Wang, (Sept. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250183880

Ages 9-13

Jen Wang’s given us cyberpunk fantasy with In Real Life (2014) and high fantasy with The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018). With Stargazing, readers get a more contemporary story with, as Kirkus notes, a true portrayal of the diversity within the Asian-American community.

Christine is a Chinese-American girl from a more traditional Chinese family. She is focused on school and her music, until her family moves YuWen Lin and her daughter, Moon, into the in-law apartment where Christine’s grandfather used to live. YuWen and Moon are a struggling family, and the hospitality offered by Christine’s family is much appreciated. Christine and Moon are encouraged to spend time together, but the two are polar opposites: Moon is a vegetarian Buddhist who loves K-Pop and is rumored to get into fights. Despite their differences, Christine and Moon grow close, with Moon introducing Christine to a lighter, more fun side of life, letting her relax and let her guard down. Moon confides in Christine, telling her that she belongs in outer space, and that beings from space speak to her. When Moon meets a Caucasian girl that shares many of her interests, Christine’s jealousy takes control, and she puts Moon into an embarrassing situation; Moon reacts with her fists, which leads to an episode that lands Moon in the hospital.

Jen Wang weaves an intricate story of family expectations, social groups, and the complexity of navigating friendships in Stargazing, giving us some of her best storytelling yet. Influenced by events in her childhood and growing up in an Asian-American family, the story has depth and incredible emotion. Whether she’s giving us cyber farmers (In Real Life) or a friendship between two schoolgirls who love K-Pop, Jen Wang always manages to make her character’s humanity the central focus of her stories. Christine and Moon are so real, so strong, that their voices come right off the page and speak to readers; telling them about their stories, their lives, their struggles. When Christine writes that she doesn’t consider Moon Asian, we see the conflict between a traditional Chinese household versus a more contemporary, Westernized Chinese-American household. Christine’s mother holds Chinese lessons in her home; YuWen runs a plant nursery and watches TV with her daughter at night. While Christine listens to more Westernized music, Moon embraces K-Pop and dance routines. The two families present a glimpse into the diversity of Asian-American families, both connected to the culture in different ways.

Stargazing is a definite must-read and has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Newsarama has an interview with Jen Wang that’s worth reading.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Fantastic Fairy Tale: The Prince and The Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723634

Recommended for readers 10+

In a Parisian town, during what looks like a Renaissance period, Frances is a brilliant dressmaker who slaves away in drudgery until she’s hired to work for the crown prince, Sebastian. It’s only when Frances arrives at the palace does she realize that Sebastian has a secret: he loves to wear extravagant, lavish dresses and go out on the town! Together, he and Frances craft a persona, Lady Crystallia, and hit the streets of Paris together; Lady Crystallia makes a splash on the Paris fashion scene, and Frances finds her talents in demand. But to go public with her talents puts Sebastian’s secret at risk.

This is a great modern fairy tale. It challenges gender identity, it’s got great characters, the art is soft realistic with a touch of the fantastic, and a touch of sweet romance that will make you just sigh, “Aww!” Frances is a lovable character who I felt for, and Sebastian put my emotions through the ringer as he went through his own stress. Each chapter is set off with a dress pattern, keeping readers in the overall story. Give this one to your readers who loved Princess Princess Ever After, your Lumberjanes fans, and anyone who appreciates a good, modern fairy tale.

The Prince and the Dressmaker won’t be out until February, but you can pre-order now (and check out more amazing art).