By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Donut Fall in Love
By Jackie Lau
Things are not going well for actor Ryan Kwok. His latest film, a romantic comedy, just came out to mixed reviews. He’s still grieving his mother’s sudden death from a few months earlier. He’s back in Toronto trying to be there for his family, but is less than successful. He’s at a loss as to how to help his sister, a struggling new mother. And his father would rather (hilariously) troll him on Twitter than connect in person.
Then he meets Lindsay McLeod—after knocking over two dozen specialty donuts at her bakery. Not the best way to meet someone, but the attraction between them is there. So when Ryan agrees to be on a celebrity episode of “Baking Fail,” he asks Lindsay to teach him how to bake, and she agrees.
As the two spend time together, one of the things that brings them closer is their grief over losing a parent. Lindsay lost her father seven years earlier and the pain is still there.
“Donut” is a cute romantic comedy and it’s fun to watch Ryan and Lindsay experience the ups and downs of falling in love. Sure, Ryan’s celebrity brings in a different element, but at the core, they’re two people who haven’t done the relationship thing in a while and are just trying to figure it out—something many people can relate to.
One thing I really enjoyed was how Lau didn’t just focus on romance. She shows other parts of Ryan’s and Lindsay’s lives, especially how the deaths of their respective parents have impacted them. Ryan’s mother was the glue that held their family together and now he’s trying so hard to fill that void. Lindsay hasn’t made any new connections since her father’s death—not just romantically—and we see her work to change that as she tries to bond with her new roommate. I appreciated seeing these sides of the characters because they remind the reader how complicated life is and that romantic love isn’t the only kind of love.
Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir
By Kat Chow
Grand Central Publishing, 2021
Kat Chow has always been a bit obsessed with death. She worried about her parents all the time—especially her mother, who used to joke that when she died, she wanted to be stuffed and displayed in Chow’s apartment so she could always watch over (and/or haunt) her.
When Chow’s mother dies unexpectedly from cancer when Chow was in high school, she, her sisters, and their father are overcome with grief. In “Seeing Ghosts,” Chow gives voice to that grief, sharing her extended family’s story as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong, first arriving in Cuba before settling in the United States.
Throughout “Seeing Ghosts,” Chow switches between sharing her family’s story to directly addressing her late mother. The latter serves as an ongoing conversation Chow has with her mother, giving readers the feeling that these are some of the things she never had the chance to say when her mother was alive. These moments had me thinking about my own parents and the things I’d want to talk to them about before it was too late.
I appreciated that Chow showed how her mother and her family are not perfect. Everyone has their own flaws and when someone passes, we often want to put them on a pedestal. By sharing the not-so-great moments, Chow humanizes her relatives, making them relatable to readers. The traditions and rituals around death that her family performs may be unfamiliar to some readers, but many of us can relate to that feeling of loss and wanting to honor the ones we love.
And while “Seeing Ghosts” is the story of Chow’s family grieving, she also includes a lot of humor throughout—even in those darker moments, such as during her mother’s funeral (I chuckled at Chow imagining her mother springing from her casket, complaining about being buried alive, and being dressed in such a cheap outfit, at that). It reminds us that there’s no one way to feel at any given moment and that’s okay.
Crying in H Mart
By Michelle Zauner
Growing up, Michelle Zauner’s mother had very high expectations of her. From the things she could control, like her behavior and attitude, to the things she couldn’t, like her height. And as a half-Korean, half-white girl growing up in the predominantly white community of Eugene, Oregon, being one of the few mixed-race kids was not easy. When she was home, Zauner was seen as Asian and when she traveled with her mother to South Korea to visit family, she was seen as white.
At 25, Zauner learned that her mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now living on the East Coast, working in the restaurant industry while performing gigs with her fledgling band on the side, Zauner had found the kind of life she wanted to live. But she was starting to feel more and more distant from her Korean side. So when she moved back to Eugene to take care of her mother, she was forced to reckon with that side of her identity.
As Zauner—who is known for her rock band, Japanese Breakfast—shares stories about her mother, one thing I really related to was how complicated their relationship is. As the Asian American daughter of an Asian mother myself, I understand exactly what it’s like to look up to your mother and aspire to be like her in some way, while at the same time trying your hardest—but never being able—to truly make your mother happy or proud. Mother-daughter relationships are rarely simple and I’ve always felt Asian mothers and daughters are a category unto themselves. Zauner did a great job of capturing those complexities.
In her writing, Zauner also excels at sharing intimate details. She brings readers in so we are there with her, experiencing everything right alongside her in moments that will stay with us even after we’re done reading.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.