A wry, youthful adventure makes good on its title.
How do you write a politically correct novel about a young white man appropriating Chinese culture? If you’re debut novelist Lowry, you don’t try. Instead, you name your protagonist Tucker—shorthand for white suburban privilege—and give him the background to go with it. Then you have his best friend, Langston Wu, teasingly refer to his “deep, probably neurotic need to try to be part of a culture that neither needs nor wants [him].” Then you leave all that behind and jump into a rollicking plot. Tucker has been kicked out of college right before graduation, so he sets off for St. Louis, where Langston is a chef at a Chinese restaurant. Ever since the friends started working at Langston’s uncle’s place as kids, the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant is the one place Tucker has wanted to be. At a rest stop, he meets a Chinese-American mystery girl who may or may not have something to do with a bunch of stolen diamonds. Corinne is the type of damsel in distress who quips sarcastically about damsels in distress. Tucker quips back while coming to her rescue. He's lucky, too, possessing many skills that come in handy when they land in St. Louis and the plot thickens: He speaks Mandarin, practices a martial art called xing-i, and has an uncanny ability to read and manipulate any situation, including those involving FBI agents. He is annoyingly always right but consistently charming and decently self-deprecating, equal parts culture nerd and movie spy. Intercut with the action are scenes in restaurants and kitchens, which have the feel of insider authenticity and are a mouthwatering pleasure.
The payoff for all the sexual tension between Tucker and Corinne is awfully slim; Lowry never resolves the kicked-out-of-college issue; and despite his awareness of it, he still glosses over the issue of cultural appropriation. But there’s food, humor and missing diamonds. It’s a fun read.