Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
Asian identity within itself is so incredibly diverse. From having cultural roots to East Asia to West Asia, to being part of diaspora, to the various ways Asians connect to their identities by family, history, language, or food, there is no ‘singular’ way to be Asian and to embody Asianness. Another layer to Asian identity is being part of a mixed race family where one of your cultural roots comes from Asia, which comes with its unique challenges, dynamics, and ways mixed race Asians connect to their identity.
If there’s any doubt among my mixed race friends out there – if you have cultural roots from Asia, you’re Asian. Identity can be a weird thing, definitely a weird space to navigate within yourself and comes with a lot of feelings that may be challenging and fraught. But, I hope my mixed race friends out there know that they are valid, that your Asian identities are valid, and that, again, what it means to be Asian is not a singular defined thing, but something that is fluid, changing, and can contain so much joy too.
I’m not mixed race, so I’m not in a position to talk about what those experiences are like, but today for Asian Heritage Month, I have the immense honour to host someone who can speak from their experiences. Today, I have Mackenzie, who is Asian and mixed race, who will discuss identity, how she found herself in a book, and share her love for said book! Mackenzie visits us as a phoenix today, wearing glasses and a soft star crown.
But before I share with you Mackenzie’s piece about a book she loves dearly, allow me to introduce to you her bookstagram and her book blog, Colour Me Read!
Mackenzie’s Bookstagram and Book Blog, Colour Me Read
If you haven’t had the joy of discovering Mackenzie’s bookstagram, then I’m delighted that you’ll get the opportunity today! Mackenzie’s bookstagram is always lovely to scroll through; her photos are gorgeous, her captions thoughtful and beautifully convey her sunny personality, and she predominantly spotlights science-fiction and fantasy reads of all ages!
You’ll also be delighted to know that Mackenzie is a co-blogger at one of my favourite book blogs, Colour Me Read! She co-blogs with Shari, a wonderful friend of mine and an incredible illustrator. Colour Me Read is always such a pleasure to visit; it’s soft, embodies the ‘aesthetic’ all book blogs aspire to, and has such thoughtful, lovely, yet succinct content that I always look forward to reading.
In particular, I loved Mackenzie’s review of The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. If you’re looking for diverse science-fiction and fantasy reads, then Colour Me Read is definitely a book blog to go to!
Mackenzie Discusses The Girl From Everywhere – The Book and Herself
Hello everyone!! Thank you so much to CW and The Quiet Pond for hosting the Asian Heritage Month series, and for inviting me to be a part of it. I tend to have this weird feeling towards my Asian heritage, due to my background. Always proud of it! But obviously it’s not always a simple feeling. I am mixed race Chinese and white, and have grown up in the US pretty removed from my Chinese heritage (seeing as how my family moved to the US from China quite a few generations ago). So it’s kind of weird to have pride in your heritage, but not be able to speak Chinese, or cook the food, or interact much with the culture. I’m sure many people can relate – it’s a feeling of being but not quite belonging. Or feeling stuck in between – not quite white, not quite Chinese, in my case. It’s kind of hard for me to describe, since it’s something that is confusing for me, but not something that causes me pain – and I am lucky in that regard, since I know this is much more of a struggle for others.
So when it comes to books, I feel like I’m still kind of in that in between place in terms of representation. Firstly, just for the fact that publishing has been so dominated by white voices – though thankfully that is (slowly) changing. But on top of that, until I read The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, I don’t think I had read a novel that centered around a mixed race character – not in fantasy at least. It was so exciting to find a book that not only followed a mixed race main character, but one that was of the same heritage as me! And not only that, it’s an own voices book!!
There are a lot of things I admire about Heidi Heilig, beyond just writing a character with my own background (and her own). I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while, and I love how she is so open about her own mental health struggles and her bipolar disorder. It really helps me as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression to see someone be so open and real about it. Talking about it without stigma, and with acceptance. It helps me be more open myself, and I think that has actually helped with my struggles. Additionally, she doesn’t shy away from writing about things like mental health and other incredibly important topics in her novels. Her trilogy that starts with For a Muse of Fire centers around a bipolar character! We stan an #ownvoices queen. Both of her books also deal with racism, colonialism, and much much more.
Since The Girl From Everywhere is so close to my own identity, I wanted to talk about it in a bit more detail. So, you probably wanna know what this book is even about?? Haha WELL! It’s a magical time travel adventure that follows the crew of the ship Temptation. The captain, who is the father of the main character Nix, is desperate to find a way to save the love of his life, Nix’s mother who died shortly after Nix’s birth. This involves acquiring a hand drawn map, as this is how the captain is able to Navigate aka time travel to different times and places. As long as they have a map of a particular place and time, they can travel there – so they can even travel to mythical places! But for Nix, this is a problem. Due to the complexity of time travel, people can’t travel to where they already exist – so if they go back to save Nix’s mother, what will happen to her? Will she be abandoned? Will she cease to exist?
So at a very surface level, TGFE is kind of like a treasure hunt for a particular map, but it’s soooo much more than that. I feel like at its core it’s more of an exploration of the complexities of family, love, and loss, and how all of these things shape people. Nix’s father, Slate, has lived his life truly defining himself by his grief for Nix’s mother, Lin. His whole life’s purpose has been to save her, and this alienates him from his own daughter. She loves him, of course, but also feels resentment that he can’t see Nix for who she is, rather than as a reminder of what he has lost.
And even more than that, it’s a story about belonging. You can kind of see this just from the title, which describes Nix herself – “The Girl From Everywhere.” Having grown up on this ship, and grown up traveling to an uncountable number of different places, she doesn’t really see herself as being from a particular place, and definitely not the place of her birth since she didn’t spend time there. Nix struggles with her heritage in this sense, rather than in the more concrete sense of being mixed race.
“What had I been expecting to find, or to feel? As I walked the streets of my birth, there was no sense of terroir, of groundedness. I didn’t belong here more than I belonged anywhere else.” (TGFE, Heidi Heilig)
But I think it’s still a good analogy for the struggle of many mixed race people, myself included, of feeling like we don’t truly belong anywhere, even though we are “from” many places (i.e. have different heritages). Through the novel, Nix spends more time in Hawaii, where she was born and in a time that she could have lived, had things gone differently. She then imagines what her life would have been like. For me this kinda mirrors how I feel about Chinese culture, and language in particular. Would I feel more connected to my culture and ancestors if I had kept up my childhood lessons and practice, and could speak fluent Chinese? Not an exact metaphor, obviously, but the story manages to evoke the same feeling in me that Nix is feeling which is… I don’t know. It just makes me feeeeeel. And think. Which not a lot of books do.
I feel like everything I’ve said about my own experience, and about TGFE is very reflective of my heritage – it’s all mixed up! And reflective of my thoughts about my heritage – also mixed! And rambly and only somewhat cohesive. I hope that this resonates with some of you from similar backgrounds, and I hope that you do check out TGFE and Heidi Heilig’s work!
About the Book Blogger
Mackenzie is a reader and astrophysics PhD candidate living in the (small) state of New Jersey, far away from her heart-home of southern California. She runs an Instagram and blog where she talks mainly about fantasy and science fiction books in all age categories. In the real world, she can be found mostly at her computer for that good ol computational astrophysics research! Or perhaps at a rock climbing wall. Or sitting on the couch playing a game on her Switch. Or rolling those shiny click clack math rocks (dice) for a high stakes game of DnD. Her favorite beverage is currently a matcha latte with boba (cold), and her favorite food is noodles (she’s craving pho).
A huge thank you to Mackenzie for sharing her feelings and thoughts about The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig with us! I think one of the coolest things about being Asian is that our identities and perspectives can be so different, and it’s an opportunity for us to learn from one another and see things in ways we may have never thought about before. I certainly felt that way while reading Mackenzie’s analysis of The Girl From Everywhere – there were many things I didn’t even think about!
Don’t forget to check out Mackenzie’s bookstagram and her and Shari’s blog, Colour Me Read – they are both absolutely wonderful. Again, I’m honoured that Mackenzie visited us for Asian Heritage Month – thank you, Mackenzie!