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FINALIST FOR THE JOYCE CAROL OATES PRIZE
WINNER OF THE NEW AMERICAN VOICES AWARD
From award-winning author Lysley Tenorio, comes a big hearted debut novel following an undocumented Filipino son as he navigates his relationship with his mother, an uncertain future, and the place he calls home
Excel spends his days trying to seem like an unremarkable American teenager. When he’s not working at The Pie Who Loved Me (a spy-themed pizza shop) or passing the time with his girlfriend Sab (occasionally in one of their town’s seventeen cemeteries), he carefully avoids the spotlight.
But Excel knows that his family is far from normal. His mother, Maxima, was once a Filipina B-movie action star who now makes her living scamming men online. The old man they live with is not his grandfather, but Maxima’s lifelong martial arts trainer. And years ago, on Excel’s tenth birthday, Maxima revealed a secret that he must keep forever. “We are ‘TNT’—tago ng tago,” she told him, “hiding and hiding.” Excel is undocumented—and one accidental slip could uproot his entire life.
Casting aside the paranoia and secrecy of his childhood, Excel takes a leap, joining Sab on a journey south to a ramshackle desert town called Hello City. Populated by drifters, old hippies, and washed-up techies—and existing outside the normal constructs of American society—Hello City offers Excel a chance to forge his own path for the first time. But after so many years of trying to be invisible, who does he want to become? And is it possible to put down roots in a country that has always considered you an outsider?
Thrumming with energy and at once critical and hopeful, The Son of Good Fortune is a luminous story of a mother and son testing the strength of their bond to their country—and to each other.
Tenorio's mordant and moving debut novel (after the collection Monstress) follows the travails of an undocumented Filipino immigrant mother and son. Nineteen-year-old Excel reluctantly makes the long trek back to the apartment where he grew up in Colma, Calif., from Hello City, a relaxed town of hippies and techies near the Mexican border, where he'd moved nine months earlier with his girlfriend, Sab. Excel has a debt in Hello City $10,000, to be exact and his only option is to ask for his old job at The Pie Who Loved Me, a restaurant where "pizza goes to die." His mother, Maxina, a former action star, lives with Joker, Maxina's childhood martial arts instructor and a grandfather figure to Excel. These days, Maxina makes a living scamming American men seeking obedient Filipina wives online. Excel and Maxina have had a turbulent relationship since Excel's 10th birthday, when Maxina told him they were tago ng tago (hiding and hiding) but with such a large debt to pay back, the pizza earnings aren't enough, and Excel turns to Maxina for help. Written with great empathy and sly humor, Tenorio's tale of Excel and Maxima's gradual reconciliation takes a searing look at the ways they've taken care of and failed each other. This is a wonderful achievement.