Review posted July 7, 2022
Little, Brown Young Readers, 2022. 8 hours, 24 minutes.
Review written June 29, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
I read and loved Emily X. R. Pan's debut novel, The Astonishing Color of After, during my Newbery committee year, so I made sure to get my hands on this book.
This book is more lyrical writing and magical realism as Chinese mythology collides with the modern world.
The book follows two Taiwanese teenagers who were born on the same day. They both have strange magical things about them. Hunter Yee never misses a shot -- whether with a bow and arrow or balled-up paper into a trash can. Luna Chang is followed around by magical fireflies that show her what to do. And when they come together - their kisses leave soft blue marks on each other's skin.
But like Romeo and Juliet before them, their families hate each other. And Hunter's family is living in hiding after his father stole an ancient Chinese artifact. A powerful mob boss is looking for them, and their protection is somehow wearing off.
And before the story of the teens, we hear a tale of something that happened in the sky long ago, and then in China.
Against that backdrop, Hunter and Luna's romance blossoms. They're drawn to each other, despite their parents. And intrigued by the magic they each contain. Hmm. My summary doesn't convey the atmospheric resonance of this book. It was a magical listening experience.
While I was listening, it bothered me a little that, while Luna talks with girlfriends a little at the beginning, they seem to disappear as her romance with Hunter blossoms. They kiss while riding the school bus and no one notices or comments. The world seems to become just them. When they find a private place and have sex (off-stage), nobody else suspects or is at all interested in their all-absorbing relationship -- and that made me wonder a bit.
But given how the story turned out -- my quibbles seemed less important. This book is transcendent and beautiful. I shouldn't have been surprised by the ending, since it was foreshadowed nicely -- but I was indeed amazed by how beautifully Emily X. R. Pan pulled it off.