First, you should check out:
1) Isabel's finale post at Sab the Book Eater, where she talks about how she completely related to Holly as a character.
Then, scoot on over to:
2) Christine's post at The Bookish Daydreamer, where she praises Maurene's writing structure, and how she really enjoyed reading about Holly's struggle to determine her individuality.
And if you want to read my review, keep scrolling!
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo (Scholastic, June 2013)
Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school's newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine's Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family's traditional Korean values?
In this hilarious debut, Maurene Goo takes a fresh look at trying to fit in without conforming to what's considered "normal" in high school and how to manage parental expectations without losing one's individuality...or being driven insane.
Hardcover, 262 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Scholastic
Format read: Physical ARC courtesy of publisher
From having a smart Asian-American protagonist without super powers, to setting her book in the ordinary city of San Diego, Since You Asked is a hilarious, laugh-out-loud contemporary novel, which will absolutely have readers falling in love with protagonist Holly Kim, and begging for more.
As someone who's Chinese-American, I wanted a YA book where the character not only looked like me, but could also understand the hilarious and occasionally bizarre aspects of growing up in two different cultures.
Over the years, I've been pleased to see a number of excellent Asian heroines gradually make their way into YA. Authors like Justina Chen and Amy Tan have definitely paved the way for more minority protagonists to take their place in the popular literary spectrum.
But it wasn't until I read Maurene Goo's Since You Asked, that I felt like I had finally met a heroine who perfectly understood the bizarre, hilarious and rewarding complexities of growing up Asian.
Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is intelligent and hilarious, but also utterly relatable as she joins her school paper and snarks her way through the school year. Readers will absolutely fall for her charms, and laugh out loud at her antics.
Things that worked:
* The writing
There's no point in beating around the bush: Maurene is a brilliant writer. She's funny and she's witty, but in a way where the humor feels absolutely universal.
In many ways, Maurene's writing in Since You Asked actually reminded me of another one of my favorite writers: Douglas Adams. She's able to convey the motives of individuals, various life events and even awkward situations, in a way where even though the reader may not have necessarily experienced them, they can still relate to them.
Now, this is one of those situations where I could tell you about all the things that I loved about Maurene's writing. From her sly humor, to her serious ability to discuss food - thanks for making me ridiculously hungry for a burrito, by the way - but I won't.
You know why? Because Maurene has the type of writing where any attempts to relay it secondhand, won't do it justice. So I'll just say: you nee to read it to truly understand why I love it so much.
However, I will say that I was especially impressed with Maurene's willingness to buck the standard structure of a novel in this book. She makes the unique choice of incorporating Holly's physical column, and random tidbits from Holly's mind which really immerses the reader into her world. It can be a risky choice, but it absolutely works in this case.
* The characterizations
Holly Kim is, in a word: awesome.
She's smart, sassy and funny. She's curious. She likes to ask questions, and she's not afraid to stand up to adults when she doesn't necessarily agree, but she's also paranoid about getting in trouble like I was, when I was in high school.
(When she was worrying about getting called to the counselor's office, I was totally thinking: "Girl, I get you. I REALLY do." )
In many ways, Maurene has written Holly as very much an everywoman, undergoing the sorts of experiences that everyone can relate to.
On a very foundational level, Holly is someone who's trying to figure out who she is and what she enjoys - e.g. her shock at being genuinely good at column writing - and what she wants in life. It's a universal journey that all readers - young or old- can absolutely say, "Hey, I've been there. I've done that."
But even from a cultural standpoint, Holly's experiences are ones that readers can undoubtedly comprehend, even if they haven't experienced it firsthand. When Holly's family and extended family brag about the grades of their offspring, who hasn't experienced something like that at hands of their own family? Or when Holly tempts fate and sneaks out, who hasn't done that, or wanted to done that when they were young?
While Holly is very much an example of what life is like growing up in a certain city at a certain time, Maurene also clearly very much demonstrated that she understands teenagers in an absolutely universal wa, that transcends time, location and culture.
On that note, I loved the secondary characters as well. You can tell from every appearance that they make, how much they all genuinely love Holly and have her back. I thought it was awesome that they weren't a part of the popular crowd, but they neither really cared, nor let it bother them.
* The world-building
Bear in mind, I grew up in Orange County, so I literally lived a hop and a skip away from where Holly lives in San Diego. So it's an area that I know very, very well.
With that being said, I think that even without my personal knowledge of the area, Maurene's brought Holly's community to life in a realistic, believable way.
She captures all the subtle nuisances of what it means to grow up in So. Cal. From the fact that Holly's a fan of wearing hoodies and jeans, to the fact that her family vacations in Vegas - (which my family totally did too!) so well, I think readers will genuinely get a sense of how it is to be Holly.
* The family/sibling relationships
I'm a pretty big advocate for family playing an active role in YA literature, because I think it's:
1) true to real life, and moreover,
2) family is one of the primary causes of teenage angst/drama/hilarity in real life. So when you don't have family in a plot, it feels a little weird.
Since You Asked has a rich cast of family characters, who both made me laugh with their antics (especially Holly's grandmother - Korean Kennedys, lol), but also made me think, "Yep. Been there and done that, and totally had my academic scores compared to my cousins like that."
I can almost guarantee that readers will read about Holly's family, and absolutely feel like they're part of the family, and have a seat at the table.
* The relationship between Holly and her parents
Holly's relationship with her parents isn't perfect - she's fifteen, and there's bound to be some teenaged shenanigans. But Maurene does a beautiful job of portraying the the ongoing parent-child dynamic in a way that always reinforces the underlying humor and love in all of their interactions.
Even when Holly is rolling her eyes at her mother's decision to badger her to take more honor classes, or when Holly finally admits to her mom that she's wrong (for once), Maurene always approaches these scenes in a way which really emphasizes that at the end of the day, everyone's going to be okay.
Holly will grow older and more mature, while her parents will grow to understand her more. Their interactions are in many ways, subtly shaping the type of person Holly will become, and the type of adult relationship that the three of them will have.
It's a very intelligent and humorous portrayal, and I think that both parents who are seeking to understand their kids more, and younger readers who are figuring how to communicate with their parents better, will all benefit from reading this book.
Things that didn't work:
Since You Asked absolutely fits together like a puzzle piece. From the plotting, to the characterizations, to the writing, everything works exactly in the right place, and at the right time.
Even the length of the itself is perfect - at a concise 262 pages for the ARC - Goo tells a well-rounded and satisfying story, but also leaves enough out there that readers will want a sequel immediately.
(And based on the tweets I've see, people are already asking.)
Holly Kim's shenanigans are both hilarious and charming, but there's also a lot of genuine heart in how she deals with her family and her friends, and I think that readers everywhere will absolutely relate to her journey. I only hope that we're lucky enough to read more of Holly's adventures in the future.
(Ahem, Scholastic! :] )
I recommend this book for fans of YA contemporary, but also for all readers in general.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Since You Asked from Scholastic, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! :)
About the author:
The prizes for the international giveaway:
1) Grand prize: the Bungalow 360 recycle tote, an ARC of Since You Asked (courtesy of Maurene's publicist) and a pair of pink wayfarers (courtesy of Maurene)
2) The Bungalow 360 square tote and a hardcover of Since You Asked
3) A Bungalow 360 fox tote!