I probably never would have picked up a copy of this ebook if I hadn’t seen it mentioned on Twitter, primarily because I don’t get the Hello Kitty phenomenon. I’m not sure if it was @avidbookreader, @McVane, or @limecello who recommended it, or a conversation the three of them had. In any case, I downloaded a sample of the book and was hooked, although I had not read the back blurb and didn’t know where exactly the book was going. I just liked the author’s voice and opening. The book is available in paper and electronic format, but the ebook was considerably less expensive, so I downloaded a copy. And then it sat in my e-TBR for a while (the e-TBR to be distinguished from Mt. TBR, the paper version of where potential good books go to languish).
Based on the potential recommenders, I wasn’t sure what to expect, since they all have very different taste in books. The information in the blurb and the excerpt reveal that the narrator, Fiona Yu, is an American-born Chinese woman, a 28 year old lawyer who lives with her family, who are pressing her to marry a good Chinese boy. All of that is sort of chick-lit-ish (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way) and not very original, but an opening in which a narrator decides clinically to rid herself of her virginity via sterilized and lidocained dildo? Different and promising and satiric and funny.
Another chick lit cliche fulfilled: Fiona’s smart, went to Yale, is miserable as an associate at a Big Law firm. She likes expensive bags and shoes. And because it’s expected of her, she works in her family’s laundry. She wears stilettos not because she likes the way they look but because they hurt, which reminds her that she’s alive, and likens them to modern Chinese foot-binding. She resents that despite her academic success and good job, she isn’t skinny enough or pale enough to please cultural stereotypes.
At the outset, her rebellions seem small: she sows discord via planted pocket contents at the family laundry. She’s obsessed with Kurt Cobain and "Smells Like Teen Spirit". She makes serial killers her heroes (which probably should have told me something). One early passage that reveals a lot about Fiona:
The FBI profiles are almost always the same: White men. Age twenty-five to forty. Female serial killers account for only eight percent of all American serial killers. And they are white too.
White people get to have all the fun.
For once, I’d like to hear "The unsub is most likely female. Asian. Age twenty-five to forty."
Unlikely. Just look at Hello Kitty.
I hate Hello Kitty.
I hate her for not having a mouth or fangs like a proper kitty. She can’t eat, bite off a nipple or finger, give head, tell anyone to go and fuck his mother or lick herself. She has no eyebrows, so she can’t look angry. She can’t even scratch your eyes out. Just clawless, fangless, voiceless, with that placid, blank expression topped by pink ribbon.
Fiona has second thoughts about her hymen — mostly irritation that apparently didn’t have one to start with, and decides that she must have one. Enter Dr. Sean Killroy, plastic surgeon, who turns out to be a childhood friend Fiona lost track of. (Because he set a classmate’s hair on fire and was sent off to juvenile detention.) In your average chick lit book or romance, he’d be the main love interest, the True Love Fiona should be with, despite her parents’ match making, despite the awkward meet cute. And when Fiona ends up going over to his place and finding him waiting for her naked, it does seem like that’s where this is heading. But no.
Fiona and Sean are soul mates but not lovers. The romance trope is that meeting your soul mate makes you more fully yourself, makes you a better person in some ways. Sean and Fiona do this for each other, egging each other on, bringing out pieces of themselves suppressed by civilization, by programming, by weight of humanity and social expectations, into daylight, for better or worse (mostly worse). The closest relationship that I can think of is that the twisted dynamic of Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell in the HeartSick series…except Fiona’s not trying to catch a killer. Fiona loves Sean and fears him, likening the feeling to someone who keeps a dangerous pet snake — loving it but being vulnerable to damage if the snake isn’t properly contained and fed. Readers never get Sean’s point of view independently of Fiona’s narration, but he does seem to feel something for her. Is it love? Or the relief of having a partner in crime? I don’t know. Certainly his "tokens" to her put me in mind of a cat presenting its owners with dead mice or birds in tribute.
Choi basically takes all the tropes and cliches of chick lit, uses them, ties them in a knot and lobs them back at readers like a grenade. Narrator/heroine set free and empowered? Check. Able to take action for the things she wants in her life? Check. Hero who *gets* her? Check. But it’s like an impressionist painting or one of those optical illusion posters that were popular years back — look at a different angle and what you’ll see is not what you expected and might shock you.
Grade from me: A
Blurb from Choi’s website:
On the outside, 28-year-old Fiona Yu appears to be just another Hello Kitty – an educated, well-mannered Asian-American woman. Secretly, she feels torn between the traditional Chinese values of her family and the social mores of being an American girl.
To escape the burden of carrying her family’s honor, Fiona decides to take her own virginity. In the process, she makes a surprising discovery that reunites her with a long-lost friend, Sean Killroy. Sean introduces her to a dark world of excitement, danger, cunning and cruelty, pushing her to the limits of her own morality. But Fiona’s father throws her new life into disarray when he dupes her into an overnight trip which results in a hasty engagement to Don Koo, the spoiled son of a wealthy chef.
Determined to thwart her parents’ plans to marry her off into Asian suburbia, Fiona seeks her freedom at any price. How far will she go to bury the Hello Kitty stereotype forever? Follow Fiona’s journey of self-discovery as she embraces her true nature and creates her own version of the American Dream, eliminating anyone who stands in her way without fear or remorse.