Retellings have been trending on book lists and for all the right reasons. Whether it’s Chloe Gong’s YA romantic historical fantasy, These Violent Delights, or CB Lee’s fresh exploration of Treasure Island, as part of the “Remixed Classics” series by BIPOC authors, A Clash of Steel. Even reimaginings of Hindu epics like Ramayana (Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi) or Mahabharata (Sangu Mandana’s A Spark of White Fire) and fantasy inspired by Asian legends like Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan and A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin. A recent addition to this stack is An Arrow to the Moon —for it retells both the Shakespearean tragedy of Romeo & Juliet and the Chinese myth of Houyi & Chang’e. Of course, it’s something to wonder when the book is marketed majorly on the basis of which Western tale it’s inspired by, but I digress.
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Luna and Hunter are two Asian American teenagers in their senior year in 1991. Hunter has recently transferred to Luna’s high school and both are unexpectedly drawn towards each other. Them being born on the same day seventeen years ago might be a reason, or maybe because they both have overbearing immigrant parents. After all, Hunter must be an obedient, ambitious elder son and Luna must get into Stanford. But these star-crossed lovers don’t need a reason to fall for each other. Except, they definitely have a reason not to: their families have despised each other and have always competed for everything —even a magical artefact.
Speaking of the speculative, these protagonists are subjects of excellence and wonder too as Hunter never misses a target with his bow and arrow, and fireflies often float around Luna like messengers of some destiny. The small town also witnesses an ominous crack spreading across it. As Hunter and Luna navigate their feelings and relationship, in the midst of familial expectations and restrictions, the magic around and within them brings them closer to something special, something they’re meant to be.
Romance in young adult books when mixed with mystical themes has often found itself overshadowed by the fantastical elements —not just from a marketing viewpoint but also when stories establish the speculative to be a central force. It’s refreshing to see the romance take centre stage in An Arrow to the Moon while the magic unfolds at the periphery. The author, in this sophomore novel of hers, truly impresses with the perfect blend of love and lore. Lush descriptions and beautiful sentences certainly aid in painting an otherworldly yet grounded backdrop for this story to unravel.
“But now he was in her orbit all day, one of them a moth, the other a flame. She wasn’t sure who was which.” This is just one of many displays of Pan’s lyrical and poetic writing, something that readers of her debut novel The Astonishing Color of After (2018) will remember and be excited to experience again after almost four years. The short chapters and an intriguing side character’s perspective make it impossible to not read this book in just a few sittings. Delivering exactly (and more) what it promises, it subtly injects the tragedy and mythology in between the lines. The legend around the Chinese goddess of the moon, her archer hero husband, and an elixir of immortality pierces the plot of this tale —earning an attention filled with awe and surprise.
Though, this book —that even the New York Times bestselling author says “is aggressively American” —wins most with its inclusion of Asian American experiences. Whether it’s the nature of one’s immigrant parents or the conflict of identity, the feeling of not belonging yet discovering a magic in that solitude, the various sacrifices made by a family and how each household depicts their love differently, or ultimately, growing up in the diaspora: where responsibility of walking down a decided path shackles you but the wide open skies also give you wings. Overall, An Arrow to the Moon, unlike those hit by Houyi in the poignant myth, lands with precision and leaves readers with heartaches.
An Arrow to the Moon, Emily X.R. Pan
Little, Brown, April 2022
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