So Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister isn’t a historical fantasy; it’s set in the present day, and starts when our protagonist—Jessamyn Teoh, freshly graduated from Harvard, and kind of milling around aimlessly while waiting for adulthood to happen—accompanies her immigrant parents back to Malaysia, and promptly becomes haunted by her dead grandmother.

To a large degree, this book is about Jess trying to figure out how she fits into the world, and how she does or doesn’t fit into Malaysian society in particular. And in this context, the haunting is particularly resonant because of course young modern Harvard graduates don’t believe in ghosts, not really; but all of her older family members assume that ghosts are real as a matter of course. So there’s an element of the heroine navigating a family spiritual tradition from much deeper inside than she’d have wanted to be.

This is a really good book. It’s fun, it’s got great characters, it’s saying interesting things about identity and belonging and history and family, and the plot is twisty and goes in unexpected directions more than once. Basically, it exists at that intersection of fun-but-not-trash that I love. Highly recommended


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