LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY
WINNER OF THE A. POULIN, JR. POETRY PRIZE
A LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2017 SELECTION: POETRY & LITERATURE
ON NPR BOOKS'S LIST OF "POETRY TO PAY ATTENTION TO: 2017'S BEST VERSE"
A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY 2017 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE SELECTION
In this ferocious and tender debut, Chen Chen investigates inherited forms of love and family—the strained relationship between a mother and son, the cost of necessary goodbyes—all from Asian American, immigrant, and queer perspectives. Holding all accountable, this collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one's own path in identity, life, and love.
Chen balances the politics surrounding shame and desire with hearty doses of joy, humor, and whimsy in his vibrant debut collection. To consider the titular act of growing up to recognize what potential could mean Chen must make sense of his past to imagine a better future in his poems. "I thought I could/ tell this story, give it a way out of itself," he writes. To this end he recounts a personal history in which he playfully addresses deeply serious issues, particularly a longing to defy the fate prescribed to him by family members or others' cultural ideas of normalcy: "I am not the heterosexual neat freak my mother raised me to be." As a gay, Asian-American poet, Chen casts his poems as both a refusal of the shame of sexuality and of centering whiteness or treating it as a highly desirable trait. Readers encounter sharp, delightful turns between poems, as Chen shifts from elegy to ode and back again. He also toys with language, as when he mulls the plight of someone's ill mother: "all I can think of is how sick's/ also a word for cool.' " Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability an acute reminder that there are countless further possibilities.