By Delia Cai
Publication Date: January 31, 2023
When Audrey Zhoe left her small hometown in the middle of Illinois, she swore she’d never go back, and she managed to keep that promise for eight years. Only her fiance’s desire to meet her parents and her father’s imminent medical procedure convinced her to board a plane and leave New York City to spend Christmas with her parents. Now, maybe, she’ll be able to show her mother how well she’s done, despite never living up to her expectations in anything. And it would be good to show off that since she left for college, New York Audrey has made something of herself in a city where no one cares if she’s Chinese.
But Audrey left unfinished business behind in Illinois in the form of her high school crush, Kyle. Then she runs into her former best friend, who can’t be bothered to spare her five minutes in the church restroom. It doesn’t help that her fiance needs to fly off for a job in LA on Christmas Eve, leading to a huge fight with her mother. How can her life crumble in less than a week? But the more time Audrey spends at home, the more she sees her past and her present in a new light. Maybe, just maybe, things weren’t so bad in her hometown and it might be possible that Audrey herself had a hand in feeling like an outsider.
I had a hard time getting into this book at first. I think it might have been the demographics of the characters. I found myself shaking my head at the thought process of late-twenty-somethings in New York City. Then again, I feel that way in daily life as well so that’s not a comment on the story, more on my own worldview.
Once Audrey and Ben headed for Illinois, I got more interested and wound up finishing this book in two days. I applaud the author – the way she captured the relationships between Audrey and her family, plus people from her high school days, was layered in and revealed little by little, changing slowly from seeing her past as things that happened to her (in large part because of her race) to morphing into an understanding that her own perceptions may have been skewed.
As I noted above, at its heart, this story was about relationships; most importantly, the relationship between Audrey and her mother. Audrey grew up with unrelenting expectations placed on her by her mother, to the extent that she eventually placed them on herself. The journey she undertook to understand her past and revise her expectations for her own future was empowering without being overstated. I loved the realistic ending.
It’s wonderful to read a debut novel and be pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. This one is definitely worth the read.
A solid 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for providing the ARC. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
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