In Maurene Goo’s novel “Throwback” (Zando Young Readers, $16.99), teenage protagonist Samantha goes back to the ’90s, where she befriends her 17-year-old mother, Priscilla. Satirical, humorous and thoroughly engaging, Goo’s book also reflects on how what was once accepted as the norm – casual racism played off as a joke – is problematic when viewed through our modern lens. “When I was very young, a lot of my school friends were white with all the very American kid accouterments – holidays spent skiing, tons of toys, their own phone lines, junk food in the home etc.,” said the author, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “I felt like an outsider with my large Korean family gatherings, parents who didn’t speak English well and seaweed snacks. But once I got to high school, I had a ton of Asian American, and specifically Korean American friends, and didn’t really feel othered. I was very lucky in that way, since teen years are already hard enough without that on top of all else.”
People are also reading…
Q: Do you think you would have a fun time traveling with either Sam or Priscilla?
A: I would love to travel with Priscilla, because she would do it in style – nice hotels, good food, and she would probably plan everything for me so I wouldn’t have to. Sam would be fun, too, but I would probably have to be more spontaneous.
Q: Did you write any of this novel during your travels?
A: I’m not great at on-the-fly writing. I can’t squeeze in word counts in the car or in a waiting room somewhere. I need to have a few hours blocked out with no disruptions, either at my office at home, a friend’s house or a cafe. But I do love working in a hotel bar.
Q: What was the first trip you took as a child?
A: My first big trip was to South Korea with my mom and sister. I did love it – the street food! The puppet shows! The giant department stores! But I also got chicken pox and got lost. So big memories and tiny traumas.
Q: What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?
A: Worst is staying up all night on a remote island in Panama getting eaten alive by bugs. [Laughs.] Actually, maybe worst was when people kept yelling “China” at me in Madrid. Yup. Best was swimming with a turtle by myself while on my honeymoon in Hawaii. It was so magical and unexpected.
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?
A: That there’s something unique and interesting about every single place you visit in the world. You just have to look and be open-minded.
Q: Do you have any trips planned for this year?
A: I have a lot of domestic travel planned for book events, but I am hoping to squeeze in a trip with my husband somewhere abroad, which I haven’t been able to do since before Covid. I am hoping for Italy. We’re also planning a family vacation on the Oregon coast.
Q: Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A: Ojai and Palm Springs. Both are so close to L.A. and feel like real vacations the second you drive into them. Very peaceful and relaxing.
Q: If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A: One time, my husband’s family took us all to Panama for the holidays and it was so memorable. [We] swam with whale sharks, walked through rainforests, kayaked through rivers, saw the Panama Canal and stayed up all night on a remote island getting eaten alive by bugs.
Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?
A: I can speak bits of Spanish and conversational Korean, and a few Mandarin phrases from my husband working there for a few years. I think I am a medium language learner. It’s not that hard for me, but I don’t learn them in any kind of savant manner.
Q: What are your five favorite cities?
A: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Barcelona and Seoul.
Q: Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?
A: This is going to sound weird, but Provence. It has a very similar landscape and climate to Los Angeles, but add in magical medieval villages built into mountain sides.
Q: Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: A loaded Kindle, bug spray, AirPods, lots of underwear and plenty of snacks. And sunglasses.
Q: What would be your dream trip?
A: I have never been to Italy and would love to spend an entire summer there just walking on cobblestone paths, eating pasta, looking at art. Then spend days on a beach or poolside before taking some wine tours. Yes, I want to do all that.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?
A: I order dessert and wine with every meal.
Q: What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A: I look up restaurants, because I want to make sure I am eating the best food. I try and find people who I know have traveled there to get their recommendations for all the things to see and do. And I make sure I know about the bug situation. I am a mosquito magnet!
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)