Review by Jieun Lee
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2 June 2020
384 pages, Hardcover, $25.99 CAD, ISBN: 978-1-5344-4334-1
Ages 14+, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Romance
When you grow up with a curse, you’re told to expect nonstop trouble. You’re told there’s nothing you can do because a Tiger girl always has horrendous luck with boys and excess facial hair. When I pluck and wax my Tiger mustache every forty-eight hours, I have sometimes wondered if there is an easy home remedy or Chinese spell to make it all go away. Honestly, I’m sick of being told who or what I should be. And I’m seriously annoyed about being told that there is no cure for my lifelong curse.
Iris Weijun Wang has a pretty great life. She’s almost done high school, she’s got a new Vera Wang dress to wear to prom, and she’s got a super cool, super sexy boyfriend named Peter to go with. But Madame Xing’s curse of being a flower-hearted tiger girl—which has haunted Iris’ superstitious dad since she was born—starts to come true when everything goes horribly, horribly wrong: she finds Peter and her best friend in her bed, crashes her parents car in their garage, and to top it all off, hasn’t been accepted to any colleges, and isn’t even going to graduate from high school. Could things get any worse? Oh yeah, her parents announce that she has relatives that she’s never known about in Beijing that she’s being sent to live with them. All of this is just the beginning, as many more surprises await Iris during the summer.
My Summer of Love and Misfortune depicts the complexities of cultural identity, and the experiences of Asian diaspora in the U.S. who are told that they “look Asian” but “act American.” Although China is her place of heritage, it is not a place that will automatically accept Iris as an equal. For instance, Frank Liao, Iris’s newly appointed tutor, tells her:
You look Chinese, but you act different and think different from everyone in Beijing. Being Chinese is… always thinking about your past, present, and future. You’re connected to your future. Americans just tend to only think about what they want. It’s very individual.
To her family and peers in Beijing, Iris is seen as someone who doesn’t respect the culture, and only wants to take from them, have fun, and return home. To her friends in the US, she is just another rich kid who lives in a suburban New Jersey mansion. These different relationships are not presented as binaries, but instead nuanced layers that slowly build Iris’s identity as she learns that there is more to life than just spending money and going to Ivy League colleges. Author Lindsay Wong navigates the complex relationships maintained by immigrants and provides a window into the communication difficulties that exist across generations, as language and memories become lost. Iris’ parents keep reminding her, “Iris, we have given you everything…We tried to be the best parents, but look at what happened to you. We love you, so we are sending you away.” She also discovers that her American upbringing and lack of knowledge of Chinese history and language makes it difficult to communicate with her cousin and extended family.
But Iris’ ability to find fun anywhere she goes, her unyielding loyalty even to those who don’t always deserve it, and her hilarious inner monologue helps ensure that readers continue to cheer her on, despite her self-centred personality and excessive consumerism. This novel successfully exposes the sinister side of wealth and privilege, one that disadvantages those who are already marginalized. By the end, Iris begins to think about the ways she can use this privilege to benefit others, instead of just to fulfill her own desires.
My Summer of Love and Misfortune is the perfect book to escape into, filled with lush and delicious scenes of Beijing street markets and a glimpse into the glamorous lives of its wealthy families. But the novel also presents an endearing protagonist who learns to think of others before herself and protect her family while still managing to have a blast. This is a great companion to other YA novels, such as Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali and The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan that depict complicated but heartwarming family relationships across the globe.
Jieun Lee is a graduate student in UBC’s MA in Children’s Literature. She doodles and scribbles as much as she can and aims to tell stories of children’s experiences in immigrant families and the magical effects of food.