reconnecting your own identity | loveboat taipei by abigail hing wen

by - 9:00 AM

"Understand now that rejecting their wishes is not the same as rejecting them."
isbn: 978-0-06-295727-6 | pages: 414
publication date: January 07, 2020 | source: own/physical
genre: young adult, contemporary fiction
expect the drama 
I started this book in February and put it down because I was scared of all the drama I could feel was going to happen. As someone who also attended a Taiwanese summer-immersion camp in high school, I'd be a liar if I didn't recognize the familiar conflicts that occurred, but personally, my experiences were a lot less "intense". Regardless, this has all the teenage parents-aren't-here type of drama so you've been properly warned in advance.

With drama comes the ugly side of people. There's so much girl-hate and trash talk as soon as the characters arrive on the Chien-Tan campus. Ever's roommate Sophie becomes the instant target for this petty girl-hate as well as the one initiating the rumors. Her character is so dichotomous - she's boy-crazy to the max but also had a killer brain and extreme negotiating skills that show a glimpse of her potential. In some ways, she got the short end of the stick. While definitely a complex character, her moments feel glossed over without a conclusive resolution that she deserves.

There's also a love triangle / square that appears, I think, just for the sake of adding in more dramatics. However, I found myself skimming over those moments because I didn't care too much for the logistics behind who likes who and all the emotional mess. There's a lot that I could unpack about the relationship drama but simply put, I kept reading because the characters were dynamic and not because I wanted to see the final ships. I do think this is a testament to the author's ability though, to take stereotypes (i.e. perfect Asian boy, brooding bad boy, boy crazy girl, etc.) and make them interesting to read about.

an introduction to important themes
There are lots of great themes that get introduced, the only downside is that they're only introduced. Circling back to the girl-hate and petty drama, there's the issue of a leaked nude that occurs due to jealousy over a boy. This is a devasting experience and while we got a great scene where the character stands up for her own dignity and we're reminded a couple of times about the repercussions, it doesn't hold the same weight we all know it does in the real world. The perpetrator who spread the photo receives a reconciliation without bearing any consequences and the friendship resumes as normal which definitely irked me.

Another theme that is mentioned is the Asian American definition. This one was a little more fleshed out and another point that I appreciated. All the students at Chien-Tan come with varying perspectives of balancing their parental expectations and their own personal desires. It was really interesting to delve into so many different perspectives that part of me wishes the space in the novel that focused on the romance could have been swapped out to explore these narratives more.

self-discovery and voice
Ever is a great main character. She took some getting used to, but she was given the space to grow and develop her own sense of identity. I was so grateful that Abigail Hing-Wen gave Ever a relationship with her parents that despite the ups and downs, strict rules, and neverending expectations, there was still love and respect. I don't discredit anyone's experiences of fighting with their parents over personal aspirations and parental projections, but I sometimes feel like we lack the depth of the immigrant familial relationship and why our parents have such high expectations.

With that said, I did want more conversation about reconciliation. Ever enters the Chien-Tan program with certain stereotypes about her parents, herself, and her dual-culture. Throughout the novel, she learns to embrace and explore the boundaries of these stereotypes, going so far as to break some of them which allow her to develop herself as a character. This in turn, gives her the ability to have a mature conversation with her parents, but it feels almost abruptly ended. That seems to be a recurring theme in the structure and delivery of the story, there's this great introduction and build, but it isn't concluded in the same manner as its delivery.

Regardless of all of that, I enjoyed this more than I thought. I let the negative and somewhat polarizing reviews that I read influence my enjoyment and motivation to read this book, but I'm glad I took the time to make my own decisions. As a debut novel, I'm impressed by how easy this story was to read once I got back into the swing and how it manages to portray an experience that is different from my own, but at the same time feels very familiar.

I would love to know your thoughts if you've picked up Loveboat, Taipei - what's one thing you loved and one thing you wished could have been done better?

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