Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-nine authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!
About Maurene Goo
Maurene Goo is a YA author who grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper, one thousand cousins, and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats — one weird, one normal. Her upcoming book, I Believe In A Thing Called Love, about a girl who tries to get a boyfriend using K drama tropes, will be released next Spring.
Everyone remembers Claudia Kishi’s outfits.
She of the long dangly earrings made out of folded-up candy wrappers. The tropical pattern leggings paired with oversized men’s shirts. The colorful sneakers without laces. The side pony and the experimental make-up. She was, without question, the coolest member of the BSC. (There even used to be a blog dedicated to her outfits! http://whatclaudiawore.blogspot.com)
But if you were an Asian American kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, you remember Claudia the most because she was Japanese.
I grew up in a very diverse suburb of Los Angeles. L.A. is home to a giant Korean American population — some say the largest outside of Seoul (notice how I am being vague about this? Substantiated facts are not my strong point!). So, while I experienced many varieties of angst, the kind that ended in tears, screams, and angry diary entries that said, “I WISH I WAS DEAD THEN EVERYONE WILL BE SORRY” in furious handwriting that tore through the pages — growing up in America as an Asian kid wasn’t really one of them. In high school, my friends were almost predominately Asian American. I had a tribe of people like me.
But in my reading life — I was foreign.
I read so much. I talk about this at every school visit, every library talk, every blog post. Loving to read is nothing extraordinary, but it felt extraordinary when I was younger. No one else I knew read as much as I did. I read every book in my teachers’ classrooms but I also mined my parents’ bookshelves — reading, but not quite understanding, The Good Earth and Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. When I spent summers at my grandma’s old folks home, I read all the issues of Reader’s Digest in the common room. But my favorite books, the ones I still hold dear today (problematic or not), were The Little House series, Anne Of Green Gables, The Little Prince, everything by Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Little Women, The Indian In The Cupboard, and above all else — The Baby-Sitters Club.
Think of all those wonderful books. And now think about what all the main characters in those books looked like. See how Claudia Kishi stands out like a bright shining star to a kid like me? A kid who relished reading about pioneer families churning butter, four sisters coming of age in New England, and English boys turning miniature? She not only stuck out in her small Connecticut town of Stoneybrook, but she stuck out in all of children’s literature. There always existed beautiful stories of Asian characters in far-off countries, wearing kimonos or cheongsams. But Claudia Kishi lived here, in America, and wore paint-splattered overalls and chunky bracelets.
And it was very important to me that Claudia was cool. As an adult, I tell kids not to care about being cool. That it’s a complete waste of your time, that “cool” is so not important. I truly believe this from my comfy position of being a self-possessed adult. But I know it’s a load of crap when you’re a kid. Being cool matters. It’s kind of the essence of life, what everything revolves around. And the very few Asian people I saw in books, movies, and T.V. were not cool. If they were male, they were complete and utter asexual nerds. If they were girls, they were shy, submissive, shuffling types.
But Claudia? She was bad in school, terrible at math. She was artistic and creative. She loved candy, Nancy Drew, and boys. She was no model minority, but she was a model cool teen — she was who I wanted to be. And she got equal airtime with all the other girls. Ann M. Martin made Claudia aspirational, she didn’t make her the shy nerd (Mary Ann) or the responsible one (Kristi). She made her the misfit with a killer wardrobe.
I know I’m not saying anything new about Asian American representation. But I bring all this up because to a book nerd like me, Claudia Kishi was salvation. She was the first. She reflected my real life in my book life. And having Claudia and wanting more Claudias was the reason why I started writing YA. She can’t be the only one. In ten years, I want readers to have memories of way more Asian American characters than just her. There are so many different stories to tell.
But Claudia Kishi? She’ll always be the coolest.
Title I Believe In A Thing Called Love
Author Maurene Goo
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
To Be Published 2017 by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Find It On Goodreads
About a girl who decides to take control of her lackluster love life by following the “love rules” found in Korean dramas – staging her own perfect romance.