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YA, Historical, 309 pages, Egmont USA
- Series: stand-alone
- Pub date: December 28th 2010
- Disclosure: Had a copy passed onto me from Ari of Reading in Color. Thanks!
Judged by its cover: It definitely has something to do with the story, and props for an Asian girl on the cover. But it's not the most original cover design, and I can't help thinking that this could have been something...more.
Frances, a Chinese-American student at an academically competitive school in San Francisco, has always had it drilled into her to be obedient to her mother and to be a straight-A student so that she can go to Med school. But is being a doctor what she wants? It has never even occurred to Frances to question her own feelings and desires until she accidentally winds up in speech class and finds herself with a hidden talent. Does she dare to challenge the mother who has sacrificed everything for her? Set in the 1980s.The Long...
I like to consider myself a reader of culture. A reader who can enjoy painful works of heartrending beauty that contain reflections on the meaning of life. A reader who can slog through just about anything to get to a kernel of truth. Bitter Melon falls squarely into that category of literary YA that tends to contain those kernels, and I wanted to love it. I really did. But something about this novel just didn't quite click with me, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm a lazy reader or if this book really didn't live up to its promise and premise.
There's an oppressive feeling of suffocation in this novel that can't be escaped. It's rare to find a character in YA with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but here, it's certainly the character of Frances's mother, a bitter witch of a woman who poisons everything she touches. We sympathize with Frances's valiant attempts to escape, but at the same time her struggles are so painful to read that all the fun is sucked out of this book. Little scenes that should be light and exciting to read--first love, winning the speech competition--are all overshadowed by her mother's vicious reactions. Every page I turned was accompanied by a nightmarish dread, to the point that I barely finished.
It's a shame, because the writing itself is good, and Frances makes for a sympathetic--if a little naive and awkward--protagonist. I enjoyed the insight into the world of a Chinese immigrant in the '80s, and I thought the historical setting itself was quite good. But I just couldn't get over how difficult this novel was to read. I don't need to read to escape, but I shouldn't feel like I'm choking to death every time I pick up your book, either.
All in all, it might make an interesting read for a classroom, and it's sure to spark discussions about the role of parents, responsibility, and individualism in teens' lives--but I can't exactly recommend it as a pleasurable read.
...and the Short:
An intriguing premise backed up by good writing and a strong voice that ends up overshadowed by its nightmarish antagonist. Painful to read, this book might spark interesting discussions, but it certainly isn't fun.
The Final Word: Meh.