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No Sophomore Slump Here: An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X. R. Pan (book review)

GENRE: YA Magical Realism
LENGTH: 378 pages
Luna and Hunter are the children of feuding parents but they fall in love after meeting at a party. While their romance is blossoming a strange crack appears in their town and it keeps growing. At the same time, Hunter plots to leave his family and Luna is being followed by magical lightning bugs.
The main characters of the novel are Luna Chang and Hunter Yee. The third most important character, in my opinion, is Cody, Hunter’s younger brother. The parent characters are also pretty prominent in the novel.
Luna and Hunter live in the same community with their houses being pretty close to each other and yet they have never met (prior to the novel's events). Granted, Hunter went to private school and their parents hate each other (with their dads competing for the same positions at work and also differing politically). Even still, I feel like their paths would have crossed at some point. That’s really just a nitpick, though, as it doesn’t really have a huge impact on one’s enjoyment of the story.
Luna and Hunter have this sort of fated aspect to their relationship and going into the novel that worried me because I feared it would make their love feel less organic. My fears were assuaged, however, because their relationship was my favorite part of this novel outside of the magic itself. It’s sweet and genuine and imperfect. It’s a cute first love story (just complicated by the magical chaos that seems to follow them).
Cody is a character I empathized with because he’s very shy and timid. He reminds me a lot of my younger self. He truly adores and looks up to Hunter and their relationship reminded me of my relationship growing up with my older sister. My sister always felt like a safe person to me growing up and that’s what Hunter is to Cody. Anyone with a sibling, whether older or younger, is sure to adore their relationship.

The novel is told through various third person perspectives including Hunter and Luna, their parents and Cody, and the story’s antagonist, Rodney Wong.
I thought that the parents’ perspectives were included because Pan wanted to develop them. Their chapters demonstrate their good intentions but flawed execution. I was thinking it was trying to send a message about parental support and expectations. This theory was supported by how much their parents’ actions weighed on Hunter and Luna individually and together. However, the parents’ stories never really end up going anywhere and even if they had progressed the ending would have negated it. That was a little disappointing to me because it feels like wasted potential.
Compared to Pan’s debut (The Astonishing Color of After) this novel leans a lot more heavily into the magical realism aspect. In my opinion magical realism is ideal for a reader who loves both contemporary and fantasy novels. They’re perfect for the dreamer; the kind of person who longs for a touch of magic in the ordinary world. Pan’s prose is just as pretty (and some would call flowery) as her debut. That’s not everyone’s taste, but I find her descriptions really make me feel like I’m in this beautiful, hypnotic fever dream.
The novel is sold as Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology. The specific myth it’s based on is Chang'E (moon goddess) and her lover, the skilled archer Hou Yi. The novel’s ending seems to be particularly inspired by these stories and I think it’s going to create divergent opinions in readers. I myself am still struggling to fully grasp my full feelings on it.

This novel had pretty big shoes to fill given I consider Pan’s debut to be one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read. It’s not as flawless as her debut, but the two main characters are both likable with an innocent romance. The magic also really comes alive off the page. As a writer myself, there are definitely some plot points I would have changed, but I understand where Pan was coming from with her choices. Overall, the pros really outweigh the cons with this one and I hope the gap between this release and her next is a little shorter than 4 years again.

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