Two interconnected families, one Taiwanese and one American, struggle to navigate life’s unexpected turns.
JonSun Tang is a farm boy from Taiwan who, following his college graduation, elopes with SuAnn, a fellow student far above his social class. The two immigrate to the U.S., where they end up flipping houses and apartment complexes in Los Angeles and raising a small family as they pursue a profitable (if unexpected) American dream. Elliana McMeri is a mother raising two daughters—one hers by birth, another adopted from a Taiwanese exchange student. Elliana’s natural daughter, Christa, struggles with her deafness but discovers a rare talent for gymnastics, earning entry into a program that trains Olympic hopefuls. Christa becomes fast friends with Wynson, the son of JonSun and SuAnn, but as the children enter their teens and Wynson’s deep affection for Christa becomes apparent, JonSun finds himself bristling in the same manner that SuAnn’s parents did over their courtship. While Christa “is a nice girl,” he tells Wynson, “I do not want you to have a serious relationship with her. You should date girls like you.” After all the work that has gone into building a life for his family in America, JonSun does not want his son to end up with the wrong partner. Chang-Lim (Tough Scratches Book Two, 2014, etc.) writes in a simple, direct prose style that seems to channel the matter-of-fact diligence of her characters: “Although JonSun had plenty of construction experience back in Taiwan, he had to learn how to make sure everything was up to code. SuAnn, meanwhile, worked with the design professionals at Home Depot to give their house a sleek, modern, American look.” There is something of a middle-grade simplicity to the novel. The narration is expositional, with quick little scenes that guilelessly propel the plot, and there is never any doubt as to what the various characters are thinking. Even so, the story remains oddly compelling: Chang-Lim effectively invests the reader in the lives of her characters, imbuing their quiet efforts to build normal lives with a definite urgency. There are no major revelations to be had or lessons to be learned, but the reader continues to wonder about the fates of the McMeris and Tangs, turning the pages until the end.
A straightforward but captivating tale of familial challenges in California.