Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bitter Melon review

Frances is a an incredibly smart girl, but not nearly smart enough for her Chinese mother. Her mother demands she get into Berkeley and become a doctor, no matter that Frances isn't even remotely sure she wants anything to do with medicine at all. She isn't allowed to have friends or to date, only study exactly what her mother tells her to, as she is constantly compared to her peers in terms of behavior, intelligence, and future prospects. When she's accidentally placed in a speech class, rather than calculus, Frances knows her mother will be furious, but can't bring herself to leave. She starts a string of lies to convince her mother that she is doing as she should, studying hard to get into Berkeley, when in fact, Frances is great at public speaking and even wins a competition. 

Slowly, Frances realizes that no matter what she accomplishes, it will never be enough for her mother. She begins to make her own plans, determined to go to school where she wants to, study what she wants to, and date who she wants to. Obviously, this is not the correct path in her mother's mind and emotions between the pair take a route I didn't quite expect. 

 The pacing, for me, was a bit slow, and the writing of Frances' thoughts, at times, didn't come across as real, but forced. I did, however, really believe in her mother and the reactions that her mother had, even to the good things that Frances accomplished. Other books/movies on this topic often have the parents coming to some huge, dramatic realization at the end, recognizing their child's many amazing qualities and allowing their kids to follow their dreams. This parent came across as more real...though I do not have a Chinese background, so I can't really tell you if it's realistic or not. It just felt real to me. 

The overall feeling of the book was empowering. It was a little too long, as a whole lot of YA books seem to be, but the message was quite good. I'm not sure Frances handled herself in the best way, but she took what she knew and finally stood up for herself. 

I also loved the inclusion of public speaking in the story. A lot of books about parents choosing a path for their kids have the kids interested in art or photography or writing. Something artsy. This was refreshing and interesting. I think speech writing is as true a talent as painting or taking photos and it was nice to see it highlighted. 

If you're interested in books like this, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is a great one. Written for adults, but with great crossover appeal. 

Bitter Melon
Cara Chow
320 pages
Young Adult
December 2010
Review copy provided by publisher


Susan said...

Interesting. This sounds like a NF book I just read about Chinese parenting. It was interesting, but frightening to see how much pressure is put on these kids. I haven't read GIRL IN TRANSLATION yet - sounds like I need to.

April (BooksandWine) said...

This sounds like a fictional version of that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which is getting a lot of attention. Plus I really liked Girl In Translation, so Bitter Melon needs to move up on my TBR as I have an ARC of it. Great job as usual, Amanda!

Amanda said...

I loved Girl in Translation! One of my favorites of last year. This one was good, more realistic than others I've read, but had a few flaws.

Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian said...

Have you read this?

Someone tweeted it last week, and I love it. Do you want a child, or a trained monkey? I'll have to pick up this book.