My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading this book feels like swirling my fingers through Jenny Zhang’s blood. It is warm and salty and utterly personal and essential to life.
There are seven short stories about Chinese immigrant families, mostly centered around the daughters in those families, told in the first-person full-speed-ahead voice of the young. I envy Ms. Zhang her ballsy sentence structure and the way she unfurls a scene slowly, as we begin to understand each narrator’s unique perspective.
The first story is clearly the strongest, and the first sentence announces itself like the horn of a train. We are in a nasty Brooklyn apartment alongside drug dealers and cockroaches from the first sentence, my friends, even as we strive for impossible grace. It’s not a bad summary of the rest of the book, to be honest.
Even the parts I didn’t “like” or enjoy reading felt important. Each of the seven families feels a bit similar, in some ways, which annoyed me but felt purposeful. Yes, your family is unique, but guess what? It’s also just like every other family! The scatological language annoyed me (seriously, there is a shitload of shit and piss and vomit and saliva in this book) and was certainly also purposeful. All that shit is an earthy connection to our animal natures and another reminder that we are all not quite so different as we like to pretend.
Overall, I hope and believe reading this book made me a more empathetic human.