Bitter Melon -- Cara Chow Gemini Bites -- Patrick Ryan

You should see the pile of Already Read, Must Be Reviewed sitting next to me right now.

And clearly, my reading jag started pre-Cybils, as the third Maze Runner book is in there, as well some fantasy. I need to get on that.

Anyway! Brief reviews of Cybils nominees, HO!

Bitter Melon, by Cara Chow.

San Francisco, 1989. Frances Ching is about to start her senior year of high school. After that, the plan is for her to go to Berkeley, become a doctor, and then take care of her mother, who has sacrificed everything for her daughter. At least, that's the plan according to her mother.

But then Frances is accidentally enrolled in Speech instead of Calculus. And she likes it. A lot. So, rather than change her schedule, she hides the truth from her mother. And thus, she begins to find her own voice.

Beautiful cover, right?

Bitter Melon isn't a story we haven't read before: Teenager gains confidence from newly-found talent, finds love and gets out from under the thumb of domineering parent. But it's a storyline that works, and Frances isn't a saint. She's not always completely likable—there's some nice symmetry between Frances' treatment at her mother's hands, and Frances' treatment of her friend Theresa—but she's generally believable.

The writing didn't blow me away—some of the life changes (Frances and Theresa becoming friends after years of enmity, for example) were a little thin, some of the Chinese customs/beliefs were explained enough times that it sometimes felt repetitive, and a lot of the dialogue felt overly formal (between the teenagers, I mean, who are all native English speakers)—but Frances, with her anger and her flaws, kept my interest.

Gemini Bites, by Patrick Ryan.

Everything is a competition to 16-year-old Kyle Renneker's twin sister, Judy. For instance? The day after he came out to his family, she announced that she had become a born-again Christian.

Usually, Kyle doesn't bother trying to compete with her, but when their parents announce that they'll be hosting the school's resident new guy (and possible vampire) Garret Johnson, all bets are off. They're both fascinated by him, and they're both attracted. But who, exactly, is he interested in? And is he really a vampire?

I guffawed when I first read the back of this ARC, because it reads (in part):




And now, months later, it still makes me laugh. I'm not sure if that's because the joke is genuinely that funny, or because I have a walnut-sized brain. (I suspect the latter.)

Anyway. Kyle and Judy narrate alternate chapters, so it's fun to see each from the other's perspective, as well as get their interior insecurities (Kyle's worried he'll never have sex beyond That Time In Brent Hartley's Car, whereas Judy's attempts at pretending to be born-again are occasionally excruciatingly embarrassing). Judy comes off as a bit cartoonish, while Kyle's voice has a bit more heart, but it's a breezy, likable read.


Book sources: Bitter Melon, ILLed through my library. Gemini Bites, review copy from the publisher.