Parents, romance, and friendship drama: New contemporary teen fiction

Here are three romance-driven YA novels from different (American) perspectives, all recently published:

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Cover of American PandaGermaphobe Mei is a liar — lying about dropping dance, lying about being in contact with her disowned brother, and lying about dating someone who is Japanese. But most of all she’s lying about intending to become a doctor. As her secrets pile up, Mei has to find a way to confront her parents with her own needs instead of conforming to all of their strict Taiwanese traditions.

Overbearing Asian parents can be a bit of a trope in YA novels but Chao portrays Taiwanese families of varying levels of attachment to tradition, helping Mei to see that some rules might need to be broken. While Mei really struggles with her family there is also a lot of humour (especially in the phone messages left by relatives) and her developing relationship with Darren is very sweet. I’d recommend it to fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before as it has a similar cosy hot chocolate vibe even when it’s dealing with serious issues.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Cover of Let's Talk About LoveAfter being dumped by her girlfriend for being asexual, Alice throws all her energy into her part-time job at the library and ignoring parental pressure to study law — but when Takumi starts working there too she finds herself somewhat distracted by his good looks. With friendship drama, therapy, and a million missed phone calls from her family, will Alice ever get her act together enough to articulate her own feelings?

I have to confess that I found this a frustrating read — no one behaves well, but especially not Alice, who totally ignores anything that isn’t movies and crappy food and things that score highly on her Cute Chart. Half the time she complains about her wealthy family paying for her rent and education, and the other half she’s surprised and upset when they don’t. Having said that, asexual main characters are still rare enough for this book to be valuable, and others may enjoy Alice’s burgeoning romance with Takumi more than I did.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

Cover of Emergency ContactPenny and Sam are both looking for escape — Penny fleeing her mother to go to university, and Sam fleeing pretty much everything. When Penny discovers Sam having what he thinks is a heart attack she rescues him and they exchange contact details, leading to a friendship via text as Penny pursues her dream of becoming a writer and Sam attempts to become a film-maker, with personal complications along the way.

Not a very compelling summary but this is probably my favourite of the three, similar in feel and content to Eleanor and Park. Penny and Sam are both awkward, creative individuals dealing with difficult backgrounds — Penny with her anger towards her flaky mother, Sam with his checked-out parents and newly pregnant ex-girlfriend — but despite this there is a lot of humour in their exchanges, with many funny moments. If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell then I’d add this one to your to-read pile.