Sourcebooks Fire Week: Asian Bar of Excellence, by Suzanne Park
Sourcebooks Fire week continues here at TLT with a guest post by author Suzanne Park, the author of the newly released The Perfect Escape. I am not often a reader of romantic comedies, but I love zombies so I read this one over the weekend and it was honestly the, um, perfect escape from the heavy emotions of our current situation. Sorry for the play on words there. I enjoyed this book a lot and am honored to host this blog post today.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (with no cell reception), it would be hard to miss the big Oscar wins this year for the Korean movie PARASITE. Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, and of course, Best Picture! Immediately after the Academy Awards night, one of my Asian friends sent me this meme:
Yes, it’s hilarious, and I can actually hear my dad’s voice saying those three words. But in all seriousness, have we gotten to the point where the bar for Asian excellence is unreachable? We all know that guys like Jonny Kim, the Korean-American Navy SEAL-astronaut-Harvard-schooled medical doctor, are Asian unicorns. His existence makes me question the universe: if he’s 35, how in the hell could he fit in so much training and schooling in only 17 years? For God’s sake, it took me 17 years to figure out how to not burn microwave popcorn.
Like the other Korean parents I knew growing up, mine were strict and had really high standards. Not Oscar winning or Navy SEAL/astronaut standards, but hard-to-reach ones just the same. My mom came to the US when she was 16 and held a steady job as a medical technologist for over thirty years. My father came to the States for grad school and received a Master’s Degree in Education from a prestigious program, then settled down with my mom in Tennessee to raise a family. Instead of pursuing an academic or corporate career, for many years he ran a corner market in East Nashville, open 9 am to 7pm, seven days a week.
It was an unspoken expectation that my brother, sister and I would need to strive for excellence so that my parents’ hardship and sacrifices would mean something. We had heard the stories about how both of my parents came to the US with only a few dollars in their pockets and how they had to walk several miles just to go to school every day in Korea. They had lived through war. Whether it was guilt, parental brainwashing, empathy, or maybe all three, my brother, sister and I wanted to be the best we could be to honor our parents, so that everything they fought to overcome would lead to a better life for all of us.
These days you hear a lot about helicopter and bulldozer parents who get super involved in their kids’ lives and won’t let them grow up to be free-thinking and independent. My mom and dad were more like giant wrecking balls…that were lit on fire. They’d sweep through our lives and boom! Out of the way, friends! We have SATs to study for! Crash! No dating! Sometimes good grades weren’t even enough for them: once in fifth grade I came home with straight As on my report card, a remarkable achievement given that I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class.
My parents shrugged and huffed, “Do better.”
When I argued that I had made all A’s, they replied, “But you don’t make A plus.”
At my eighth-grade graduation, I came home with Band and Spanish achievement medals, and they asked, “What about algebra award?”
They always left me asking myself if they would actually ever be happy with my accomplishments. The elusive Asian bar of excellence always seemed to be rigged to always be out of my grasp, like one of those dollar-yanked-on-a-string gags. My parents were so single-mindedly focused on our academic achievements and had instilled in us such a huge fear of failure that I wondered if we could ever stray from a “safe” career path they had predetermined for us. Failure brought shame to our family, and as such we were scared to take risks and step out of bounds. But was this really what the American dream was all about?
Both my sister and brother acknowledge that I was the first one in my family to ultimately fail. Not “ultimately” in a time sense, as if I eventually failed at some point far down the road. It was more like a jaw-dropping, yeet-off-a-cliff failure of epic proportions. My sophomore year of college, I announced to my parents that I was dropping out of pre-med. My parents’ dreams of having a doctor child, obliterated with one tearful phone call home. I wasn’t cut out of medicine, I had explained, and a summer internship at a prestigious hospital had solidified my decision: I’d hurried into a freight elevator and ran smack into a dead body lying on a gurney bed. His toe tag brushed up against my hand and I screamed like a victim in a horror movie, my mouth so wide you could’ve probably seen my tonsils. I never quite recovered from that. I had never been STEM-inclined, aside from one year of being an Algebra-1 ninja, and the idea of studying so much science in undergrad and med school AND eventually being around blood and dead bodies made me sick to my stomach. A few years later I did end up going to business school, which wasn’t my parents’ top choice for me, but they did suggest rather calmly that I should also get a JD from a good law school, so it could be my “back up plan.”
Recently I asked my mom and dad to be part of a video in which I opened a box of my advance reader copies of my debut novel THE PERFECT ESCAPE, a book that meant so much to me because it was one that I needed during my teen years. A story with a Korean-American protagonist who navigates the divide between the haves and have nots at school, someone who struggles with generational divides and whether to conform to his parents’ wishes or to follow his own dreams of owning his own business. This unboxing video milestone was important to me and I wanted my parents to see what I accomplished, on my own (no fiery wrecking ball outside help needed, haha). After I played back the video for review, my dad said, “Oh no! We forgot to say we proud of you. Can we do one more time?” It was the first time he’d really expressed any sort of happiness with my accomplishments. It turned out I didn’t need his words on camera to believe in what I’d achieved. I know now that my parents steered me in a “safe” direction because they thought it was what was best for me. And I know now that it’s ME who knows what’s best for me. Sure, I will never win an Oscar, or become a Navy SEAL-astronaut-doctor, or even become a back-up lawyer, but I’m forging a new path as a debut author and seeing where it takes me. But wherever it leads, I secretly hope that Jonny Kim guy isn’t there.
The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park
On-sale April 7, 2020
Love is a battlefield in this hysterical debut, perfect for fans of Jenny Han.
Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?
Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and she needs the money too.
If the two of them team up, Nate has a real shot of winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…
Praise for The Perfect Escape
“Debut author Park’s well-written title slyly infuses what seems like a typical teen romantic comedy with thoughtful treatment of diversity, microaggressions, classism and class struggles, immigration, and privilege while capturing the sweetness of two nerds falling for each other…A charming, thoughtful portrayal of complex teen relationships.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Pure fun! A hilarious rom-com that head-fakes you into tumbling headlong into a techno-zombie survival thriller propelled by banter and plenty of heart.” —David Yoon, New York Times bestselling author of Frankly in Love
“Effortlessly hilarious and super lovable. I hope this is the YA romcom of 2020.” –Helen Hoang, USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient
“Suzanne Park’s THE PERFECT ESCAPE is just that—perfect. Filled with humor and heart, it won’t let you go until you’re smiling.” —Danielle Paige, New York Times bestselling author of the Dorothy Must Die series and Stealing Snow
“An adorable, laugh-out-loud YA romcom with a lovable hero and an action-packed zombie-themed escape room—what more could you want?” –Jenn Bennett, author of Alex, Approximately
“Quirky and hilarious, THE PERFECT ESCAPE has everything you’ve ever wanted in a rom-com. Suzanne Park has created the perfect mix of humor and heart against the backdrop of zombie adventures guaranteed to keep you laughing. Nate and Kate are absolutely adorable and you’ll be rooting for them until the very end. A must-have addition to any bookshelf!” —Sabina Khan, author of The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
“Suzanne Park’s debut was a thrilling ride with lovable characters and plenty of belly laughs.” —Gloria Chao, author of American Panda and Our Wayward Fate
“Suzanne Park’s THE PERFECT ESCAPE is the hilarious tale of two snarky teens who will win your hearts (and maybe each other’s). It is indeed the perfect escape from, well, pretty much everything.”—Sarah Henning, author of Throw Like a Girl and the Sea Witch duology
“The funniest love stories can start in the most unexpected of places. The Perfect Escape is a whip-smart, hilarious rom-com that boldly explores classism, family expectations, and how to outrun zombies.” —Nina Moreno, author of Don’t Date Rosa Santos
SUZANNE PARK is a Korean-American writer who was born and raised in Tennessee. In her former life as a comedian, she was a finalist in the Oxygen Network’s “Girls Behaving Badly” talent search, and was also selected to appear on BET’s “Coming to the Stage.” She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, female offspring, and a sneaky rat that creeps around on her back patio. In her spare time, she procrastinates. The Perfect Escape is her young adult debut.
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network