CW: Gun Violence, Cancer and death of a parent, Racism (challenged)
I first noticed this book because there was so much hype during the release week, but I somehow didn’t really feel interested in it. But then my friends started saying wonderful things about it, and I received the audiobook, so I just thought why not give it a try. And I’m not exactly sure what I’m feeling after finishing it but maybe I will by the end of this review.
The first thing you’ll notice about this book is it’s writing style. It’s very unique, almost like the main character is having a conversation with the reader. There are a lot of broken sentences, hyphenated sentences, very current teenage lingo and a lot of gaming references. All these things would be perfect for the right audience, but I unfortunately am not one of them. I found it a little difficult to follow in the beginning, but once I decided to not overthink everything and go with the flow, it became a much easier read. In parts it felt like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teenager, but there were parts where it felt really authentic.
Its a slice of life kinda story, exploring the life of our main character in his senior year, but the pacing was always fast and I never got bored. The author also manages to bring lots of laughs, makes us think and ultimately also made me cry. The narration by Raymond J. Lee is awesome, him bringing a lot of authenticity and uniqueness to the various characters. My only quip is that his voice sounded a little old for a teenager.
I’m an Asian immigrant too but I’ve only lived here for a little less than a decade, so my experiences are vastly different from either the parents in this book or the kids. But it’s just all so relatable in a way that I can’t explain. The author does a great job exploring the lives of immigrants like Frank’s parents – who come to America to make something good of their lives but never want to lose that connection to their homeland, and they keep at it by socializing only with their fellow countrymen, hoping that their kids date others of the same race and essentially live in their own bubble, which ignores the rest of America. And I can’t deny that most of us Asians do this, including me and everyone else I know.
The author also doesn’t shy away from discussing the deep rooted prejudices and racism in the Asian community, particularly regarding the African-American community or the Hispanic community – and how this is a bone of contention between the older generations and their much younger Americanized kids who also happen to be more educated and progressive. And this feeling of not belonging to either their parents’ homeland or America, and how much of this looking for belonging and identity can affect the lives of these first generation immigrant kids, was depicted very thoughtfully by the author. We also see stark differences between the kind of relationships that kids and parents have with each other across communities, and this was another aspect of the writing that I felt was done very realistically.
And along with all the important themes of identity, racism and privilege, the author also gives us an authentic look at how crucial the senior year is to the kids. The unending expectations of excellence from the parents regarding SATs and college applications, the fear of disappointing them, the joy of going to a dream college and the utter sadness of losing all our close friendships – it was written so beautifully that it made me very nostalgic and emotional. It’s really been a while since I’ve read such an authentic and relatable high school experience that it really impressed me.
I absolutely loved all the young characters in this book. Frank is a smart, hardworking, responsible and respectful young man and I just wanted all the happiness for him in the world. I felt every single emotion that he felt, particularly towards the second half of the book. He really feels everything with all his heart and it made me very sad whenever something not so nice happened.
Brit is a very woke and progressive young lady, and I admired her for being so thoughtful and sweet. Joy is a real spitfire, extremely smart and ambitious, but like a normal teenager doesn’t want to disturb the status quo a lot.
Q is Frank’s best friend and gaming nerd and I adored their friendship so much. They were just there for each other without any expectations and it reminded me so much of my best friend whom I haven’t seen in years. Their last scene together made me sob (and I’m also crying right now while typing this review) and I just wish we could have gotten more of their scenes together.
There are other high school kids as well with whom we only get a few scenes, but they were all written with a lot of care and it shows in the writing.
Finally, I just want to say that this book has taken me completely by surprise. It’s beautiful and poignant and very resonant in a way I haven’t felt in a while. If you love YA contemporaries where everything is not always hunky dory but it hits you right in the feels, then this is the book for you. If you are an Asian immigrant or a first generation American, you will definitely find something very relatable in these pages and I highly recommend this book to you. I just realized there is going to be another book in the series and I really really hope we will be following the same set of characters because I don’t feel done with them yet.
PS: Thank you to Libro.fm and Penguin Random House Audio Publishing House for providing me with this audio listening copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.