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review 2020-05-09 20:01
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
Superman Smashes the Klan - Gene Luen Yang,Gurihiru

Adapted from the 1946 'Superman' radio serial on 'The Clan of the Fiery Cross', 'Superman Smashes the Klan' is great fun and offers a message of hope for those confronting intolerance.


Author Gene Luen Yang, most famous for the middle grade graphic novel 'American Born Chinese', offers a detailed essay in this edition on the origins of the famous serial and its direct influence in defeating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan in postwar America.


The Lees are moving from Chinatown into the heart of Metropolis' residential area. Dr. Lee has been hired by the Health Department (a private company) on a top secret project and looks forward to integrating his family into modern American life. He encourages his wife to speak only in English and they have had their children take on "American" names.


The night after the Lees move in, the Klan burns a cross in their front yard, attracting sympathetic and negative responses. The Daily Planet's most valued reporters are on the story, of course. 


Roberta Lee is a great character, shy and prone to motion-sickness, she is nonetheless brave and stands up for what's right for herself and her family. She doesn't like the idea of leaving their old lives behind, but a piece of advice from her mother about how to make new places home ends up helping Superman as well. During this conflict Superman is increasingly dealing with challenging visions and memories of his childhood. How different is Superman willing to be in order to be his best self?


A timely and important story, appropriate for all ages.


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review 2020-04-28 14:12
Wings of a Flying Tiger
Wings of a Flying Tiger - Iris Yang
Jasmine Bai has been sent to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins in Chungking during World War II.  Her parents are still in Nanking teaching at a college.  As the Japanese close in and the danger intensifies, Jasmine decides to travel to Nanking and convince her parents to leave.  Jasmine arrives in Nanking just as the Japanese decide to massacre everyone in their path.  Jasmine miraculously survives Nanking after witnessing unspeakable atrocities and reunites with aunt, uncle and cousin in time for the threat of danger to reach Chungking.  Jasmine and her cousin, Daisy are sent to a remote country village in western China.  Here, Jasmine and Daisy rescue a downed Flying Tiger, Danny.  Danny is injured and sick with malaria, with the help of the village doctor, Jasmine and Daisy help care for him.  However, the Japanese have heard that the Flying Tiger has been hiding in the Village of Peach Blossoms and will stop at nothing to capture Danny.  Jasmine, Daisy and the villagers risk everything to keep Danny safe so he can continue fighting for them.  
Wings of a Flying Tiger captured me in the opening scene with Danny's bravery, passion for the cause and immense emotion.  I didn't really know about The Flying Tigers and were amazed to learn about these real heroes,  a group of American volunteers under of the Chinese Air Force.  After that first scene, the perspective is switched to Jasmine for a while.  Jasmine is an intelligent young woman who knows what she wants and does it, which is rare for a young woman in China at the time.  While I was aware of the Nanking Massacre, the writing of the violence was intense and graphic, however; I'm sure it only conveyed a fraction of the true terror of harrowing reality of those six weeks. I was amazed at the resilience and fortitude of the people who managed to survive.  When Danny and Jasmine's stories collide, the danger intensifies but the element of romance is added.  They both have an immense amount of respect for each other and the situation that they are in.  I was astonished at the collective protection of the town towards Danny and their willingness to do anything to keep him safe for the greater good.  The ending is gut wrenching and heartbreaking, showing the true courage of people fighting for their freedom.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.  
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review 2018-08-05 20:28
The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang

This fantasy novella is entertaining enough for its brief length, and shows some originality, but it fails to explore its most interesting ideas, and the character development and worldbuilding – while serviceable – are not particularly deep.


In a quasi-Asian world, a Protector rules over not-China with an iron fist. The first half of the book follows the Protector’s youngest children, twins Akeha and Mokoya, through their childhood, discovery of their magical powers and coming-of-age, while in the second half they appear as adults (the book covers 35 years) building their own lives and becoming involved in a rebellion against their mother’s rule.


As far as the plot goes, I found the second half more interesting than the first, and the book is a very quick read. With small pages and generous font and spacing, it goes by even quicker than the page count would have you believe, and the author does keep things moving – we get little more than a snapshot of the action at each phase of the twins’ lives. The thing that makes this book notable is its treatment of gender: this is a world where people don’t have one until they choose it, be that at age 3 or age 17. Which is a bombshell of an idea that is incredibly underexplored, treated as background and only barely mentioned in the lives of anyone other than the twins.


It’s a fascinating idea: what would gender mean in a world where everyone got to choose their own? Would gender be considered meaningless, merely a matter of plumbing? Would gender roles carry less weight because anyone could choose either, or more, because if you chose your gender you forfeited the right to complain? Perhaps there would be even less tolerance for crossing boundaries, because if you wanted to be a construction worker you should have chosen male? Would society be more equal, because people wouldn’t choose a gender they viewed as oppressed? Would governments try to incentivize people to choose one or the other based on their current needs? Would families pressure their kids to choose a gender that suited their needs better? Would horny teens choose the gender they figured would get them more sex, regardless of other factors?


And how would you choose, if you could freely choose either and hadn’t been handled a default? There’s so much to consider: what role you want to hold in society and your family; how you want your actions, strengths and flaws to be viewed; how you want your worth to be judged; which physical risks you are more willing to accept; what expectations for showing emotion fit your personality; what expectations for personal grooming suit you best; whether you want to be pregnant and give birth; what type of body you want; what role you want to play in sex; and so much more.


And guess what, none of this is actually considered in this book. The book doesn’t delve into how people choose their genders at all, beyond the idea of choosing what “feels right.” Akeha looks into a mirror, tries out one gender’s pronouns, feels they don’t fit, tries out the other’s, likes them better, and chooses that. This kid is 17, old enough to choose a college and potentially a career path in our world, yet puts about as much thought into this decision as the average person picking a restaurant for dinner.


Nor are gender roles in this society explored at all, though there are indications that they exist: Akeha – raised in a monastery – reflects on not really having known any men because monks aren’t “real men” in the eyes of society, and has a stereotype of women that involves simpering and makeup. Gender roles don’t seem to be particularly strict, or at least don’t follow our stereotypical defaults – most of the military officers we see are female, which is a bit confusing because if you could choose your gender and wanted to join the military, wouldn’t you go for the extra upper body strength? (Though the military seems to be more about magic than physical strength in this world, so perhaps not.) Or considered another way, how likely are the types of people who choose female to then decide to join the military in large numbers? Presumably testosterone is still a thing in this world.


The mechanics of all this aren’t explored either. The book indicates that due to magic, puberty doesn’t happen until people choose: but what plumbing do they have beforehand? What happens if someone never chooses? What if they later change their mind? If people have a “correct” gender – as is implied by having characters just choose what “feels right” – then one can choose wrong, for instance by choosing the same gender as one’s older siblings to fit in, or succumbing to family pressure, or choosing to please a love interest (homosexuality and people having love interests before choosing their gender both occur in this book).


On the positive side, the book did make me reflect on how large a role gender plays in how I view a character (and by extension, presumably real people too). Reading about Akeha and Mokoya in the first half of the book, before they choose, I felt distanced from the characters, largely I think because this key aspect of their identities was missing. Unfortunately, the language is also unavoidably clunky at times: “Akeha was used to being patient and staying very still, but irritated prickles flushed up their spine and raced across the skin of their neck. They pressed their teeth together.”


At any rate, this is a really quick read and a reasonably satisfying one on a plot level, so go for it if you want. But I would have appreciated it more if it had truly engaged with the ideas it introduces.

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review 2018-07-03 01:05
I could easily rate this higher if it had been my thing
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is not poorly written.   The world building is gorgeous.   


I also found it quite boring.   


I just didn't care enough about the characters or the plot or the world.   It's high fantasy in a silk-punk world and it's, quite frankly, hard to get me to care about the olden day fantasy settings, whether they be high fantasy or historical fantasy.  


So I highly suggest this to those who are into silk punk with a liberal dose of, well, liberal ideas about gender and sex.  


I do not suggest it for someone hoping the raptors will have more on page time than they do, and just, damn, that would have upped the rating.   Like if the book was all raptors and this well written I would have swooned.

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review 2018-06-21 03:12
Review: The Black Tides of Heaven
The Black Tides of Heaven - JY Yang

I'm very interested in the setting and worldbuilding, but not super invested in the protagonist. There's just a certain lack of intensity? Something? But there are also raptors and magic. I may still pick up the sequel.

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