The Week in Books #107

14/19 ✅

I’m getting close to actually finishing this giant stack for the month of May! Just 5 left, one being the ginormous new book from Hanya Yanagihara that will probably take some time to get through, but I’m hopeful about the other 4. This week I read two books about Chinese families dealing with mental illness (one fiction and one memoir), coincidentally.

1. Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. This book is a fairly gut wrenching look at what it’s like to have a family member suffering from mental illness. I liked how the story was told from the perspective of each sister and also a handful of other characters, I think it did a pretty good job of showing how one persons actions can be interpreted in many different ways. Lucia’s chapters helped the reader to understand her thought process and showed how her actions made sense in her mind, but then reading about the same sequence of events from an outsiders perspective showed how erratic her behaviour really was. It was done fairly well. I will say the story dragged for a few chapters after the start of Part 2 but the pace picked back up, and that ending was pretty wow.

Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. The Woo Woo by Lindsay Wong. This is a Canada Reads selection about a Chinese-Canadian family that lives in Vancouver so I was definitely interested in reading it. Surprisingly I DNF (did not finish), giving up at about the halfway point because it wasn’t holding my attention. It started out strong but became repetitive, and there was a real lack of emotion behind what Lindsay was saying about her family and their illnesses that made it hard to want to continue reading. She felt very removed from what was happening… it was funny at first but then it was like, ok but how does all this make you feel? Surely it can’t be all laughs. She came across as indifferent to the thoughts/feelings of her parents and Poh Poh. I was also rubbed the wrong way by her use of nicknames for people she encountered, like Pizza Head for the girl with skin problems, and Wobin for the girl with the speech impediment named Robin. I think she was going for comedy here but it felt very mean spirited. This was a pretty big let down! Maybe I need to take a chill pill, but after working with the mentally ill for so long I’m afraid I just don’t find paranoid schizophrenia very funny. It will bug me that I didn’t read it to the end but there are just too many other books to get to so imma move on.

In this jaw-dropping, darkly comedic memoir, a young woman comes of age in a dysfunctional Asian family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons when they should really be on anti-psychotic meds.

Lindsay Wong grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic grandmother and a mother who was deeply afraid of the “woo-woo” — Chinese ghosts who come to visit in times of personal turmoil. From a young age, she witnessed the woo-woo’s sinister effects; when she was six, Lindsay and her mother avoided the dead people haunting their house by hiding out in a mall food court, and on a camping trip, in an effort to rid her daughter of demons, her mother tried to light Lindsay’s foot on fire.

The eccentricities take a dark turn, however, and when Lindsay starts to experience symptoms of the woo-woo herself, she wonders whether she will suffer the same fate as her family.

At once a witty and touching memoir about the Asian immigrant experience and a harrowing and honest depiction of the vagaries of mental illness, The Woo-Woo is a gut-wrenching and beguiling manual for surviving family, and oneself.

Arsenal Pulp Press

I gathered a pretty great stack of books this weekend which was verrrry exciting for me. I popped into Windowseat Books in Nanaimo while waiting for Justin with the intention of just browsing (ha!) and as I looked at a small display the owner of the shop mentioned that those books were all free. Excuse me, free? What’s the catch? She explained that they were all ARCs (advance reader copies) that she was given but didn’t have time to read so she wanted to get rid of them. WELL NOW. She assured me it was ok to be greedy and take as many as I wanted so I picked out 9 (really it could have been more) and also purchased a book as a thank you for letting me raid the ARC shelves. I bought Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies in preparation for my Indigenous History Month (June) reading list and made off with a huge bag of titles all for a total of $22. I also found a copy of Confessions of the Fox in a LFL so in total I came home with 11 books for the price of one.

How pretty are all these covers?!

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