A PHENOMENAL BOOK CLUB PICK • “A sensitive, sharp-eyed, slyly funny novel of venturing back into the foreign country that is your past—and discovering that you can never really shake the places and people that shaped you.”—Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Our Missing Hearts
A young woman’s past and present collide when she brings her white fiancé home to meet her Chinese immigrant parents in this vibrant debut from an exciting new voice in fiction.
Audrey Zhou left Hickory Grove, the tiny central Illinois town where she grew up, as soon as high school ended, and she never looked back. She moved to New York City and became the person she always wanted to be, complete with a high-paying, high-pressure job and a seemingly faultless fiancé. But if she and Manhattan-bred Ben are to build a life together, in the dream home his parents will surely pay for, Audrey can no longer hide him, or the person she’s become, from those she left behind.
But returning to Hickory Grove is . . . complicated. Audrey’s relationship with her parents has been soured by years of her mother’s astronomical expectations and slights. The friends she’s shirked for bigger dreams have stayed behind and started families. And then there’s Kyle, the easygoing stoner and her unrequited crush from high school that she finds herself drawn to again. Ben might be a perfect fit for New Audrey, but Kyle was always the only one who truly understood her growing up, and being around him again after all these years has Old Audrey bubbling up to the surface.
Over the course of one disastrous week, Audrey’s proximity to her family and to Kyle forces her to confront the past and reexamine her fraught connection to her roots before she undoes everything she's worked toward and everything she's imagined for herself. But is that life really the one she wants?
Cai's uneven debut follows a newly engaged 27-year-old Chinese American woman who brings her white fiancé to her suburban Illinois hometown to meet her difficult mother and ailing father. Audrey, who works in sales for a magazine in New York City, reluctantly takes blue-blooded Ben, a photographer, with her to her hated hometown. Ben pushed for the trip, and he wins immediate approval from Audrey's hen-pecked father, while Audrey's stern mother reverts to her old habit of making Audrey feel like a constant disappointment. Ben does his best until a family night out at the Olive Garden, where they run into Audrey's high school crush Kyle Weber, whom Ben talks down to. Making matters worse, Ben cuts the visit short after landing a plum assignment. Reunited with Kyle, Audrey thinks back on how they understood each other at their majority-white high school, as his mother is Mexican. Cai does a good job showing how Audrey was shaped by her mother's disapproval, and there are plenty of engaging insights on race and class. On the other hand, the drawn-out passages on Audrey's rekindled feelings for Kyle, which play a big part in shaping the final act, are a bit wearing. There seem to be two books at play, and one works better than the other.
Great Book Club Pick
Audrey works for a magazine called The Current, while her Fiancé Ben is a photojournalist in New York City. He is fiercely protective of her as he gets annoyed when she is asked “Where are you from?” Being Chinese American, growing up in small town America, and her mother’s strict expectations who is constantly critical of her, made for a difficult childhood for Audrey. So when Audrey goes off to college, she feels the need to keep her parents and hometown at a distance. When it’s time to come home for Ben to finally meet her parents, will her past life resurface? Will Audrey be able to show Ben where she grew up or will all her regrets get in the way? How will Ben react to it? Will her parents accept Ben? Will Audrey be able to come to peace with her past and have a successful marriage to Ben?
A coming of age story on how your past can shape and influence your future. Can your past haunt you years later when you are about to get married? Can you fit back in to a town where you have left it behind?
This author does a good job of putting you in the shoes of someone whose living with their parents who are 1st generation Chinese Americans living in small town America and how it can have long lasting affects.
Well written and a great story. Look forward to more from this author.