When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort of)
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KIRKUS REVIEW blogger Lui strikes a discordant note with the title of her memoir, but readers will find an affectionate tribute to her tough, powerful Chinese mother.

When the author was young, an unnaturally loud voice earned “Ma” the sobriquet Squawking Chicken. It’s an “all-out assault…sharp, edged and quick,” writes Lui, who felt the sting of her mother’s tongue many times. After her parents divorced when she was 7, the author spent the school year in Toronto with her low-key father and vacations in Hong Kong with her demanding mother. Ma’s child-rearing techniques included telling ghost stories that warned against behavior that brings bad luck, using feng shui edicts to control decisions and strict rules of comportment. Readers may laugh at the embarrassing-moments-with-Mom stories and also squirm at Ma’s verbal cruelty. In contrast to a permissive, childcentric parenting style so pervasive in Western culture, Ma abhorred praise as a motivator and discouraged unrealistic aspirations. Bragging and rebellion were met with public derision, and shaming and demeaning were the preferred forms of punishment. Though open affection was rare, her love was indisputable. Ma’s harsh ways reflected a determination to spare Lui the hardships she had to endure. At 15, she quit school and went to work at a restaurant to support her siblings while her unemployed parents “slept off all-night mah-jong sessions.” Then, while walking home after work, she was raped. With no sympathy from her parents, she voiced her shame, anger and frustration by screaming all night. That was the birth of Squawking Chicken. Thereafter, she used her voice to protect herself and others. For all her in-your-face tough love, baffling and amusing rules, and opinions about people and situations, Ma has been, more often than not, uncannily right-on.

Lui's memoir demonstrates an undeniable mother–daughter bond that leaves readers with one overriding lesson: “[L]isten to your mother.”

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-16679-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2014


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