This Place Is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian is a radiant YA debut about biracial identity and the complexity of love for people and places.
Annalie Flanagan's perfect summer dating a "hazel-eyed underwear model look-alike" is steamrolled with one word, spray-painted on her garage: CHINKS. The cops do the bare minimum, so Annalie's older sister, Margaret, comes home from NYU to seek justice. What she finds first, though, in the Illinois "backwater" she left behind, is a surprising appreciation for the ex-boyfriend whose heart she broke. Meanwhile, Annalie's friendship with the new boy at her bakery job seems more intimate than her relationship with her boyfriend, a confusing development but a welcome distraction from Margaret's unsettling public investigation. Annalie wants normalcy back in the hometown she finds magical. Margaret wants its racism exposed. The town's "model minority" Asian families "stay quiet"--"We smile as they walk all over us"--but Margaret refuses.
Tian's Chinese American sisters share their divergent biracial experiences in strikingly distinct first-person points of view: Annalie thinks, "I look like just another white girl... this makes me feel guilty"; Margaret muses, "People label her pretty. People label me exotic." Both, however, detail infuriating examples of racism: people muttering slurs, speaking slowly to their mother, telling Annalie she doesn't "even look Asian" or asking Margaret where she's from. Other pressures are candidly discussed: being sexually active ("I should want to do this, but it scares me"), thwarting parental biases ("dating in any shades of brown" is prohibited but Margaret's ex is Indian), the weight of cultural expectation and complicated family dynamics. An incisive read. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer