Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

What would you do if your mother planned every step in your life...and demanded you follow?
Frances has one job in life. To get into Berkeley and become a doctor so that her mother's ambitions for her will be realized. And Frances doesn't think there's anything wrong with that - until the day she accidentally steps into a speech class.
Frances turns out to be a natural at debate and public speaking. But to win in competition, Frances needs to say things she really believes - and to hide what she's doing from her mother. And once Frances steps out beyond her narrowly prescribed life, she begins to question many things about the way she is raised. Frances knows she must be obedient to her mother, who has sacrificed so much for her education. But how much is Frances living out the life her mother wants her to have, instead of the life that's right for Frances?

Bitter Melon is an emotional journey of one girl’s struggle between perfection and what it means to be truly happy. Frances must be everything. She is pushed to the limit in school as well as in every other aspect of life so that she will be able to get into Berkley, become a doctor, and take care of her mother. That is the plan–or so Frances thinks until a teacher inspires her to follower her dreams.
The struggle to please parents, and more importantly ones who aren’t pleased with themselves, is a wide issue among teens. Having achievement, perfection, and specific results demanded are emotionally brutal, especially when it turns into abuse. Loosely based on Chow’s own experiences, Bitter Melon is a rare find in a sea of stories of teen anguish and is one that will be remembered.

America advertises the ability to follow your dreams but according to Chinese upbringing, there is only duty and obedience in Frances’s future. Frances is told by her mother that once she tastes bitterness, she will get use to it and eventually like it. 
Although high academic and overall life success is mostly common in Asian culture (as showcased in Bitter Melon), this sort of pressure can of course pop in any race. 

On a personal level I connected with Frances’s story very well. Even I do not have an exceedingly severe level of pressure to do certain things, I have had experiences similar to Frances’s mother’s abusive ways. Teens who also share these issues will find this story special because it offers a glimpse of hope that the future can be changed.
Besides Frances’s struggle for happiness, Bitter Melon also has a few “side-stories” that intertwine throughout the book. Frances meets a boy whom she becomes very enticed with and finds confidence in the speeches she writes for competitions–all which make the book even more worthwhile. Overall, Bitter Melon was a wonderful debut novel. Can’t wait to see what Chow writes next.

Recommendation: Highly recommend to teens ages 12+
Content: PG - family violence/abuse

|Pages: 309|Publisher: Egmont USA|Release Date: Dec. 2010|
|Genre: Contemporary fiction, family violence, teen issues|
|Cover: 4/5|Content Rating: 5/5|Overall: 5/5|

Review copyrighted© by Books and Literature for Teens.

1 comment:

Cass said...

Nice review! :D I have heard nothing but amazing things about this book, and I'm sad that I missed it the first time around (pre-orders). It is definitely a book that hits (sort of) close to home. I myself have never had extreme pressure from my parents (unlike 90~% of Asian parents, mine live by the mottos "Do what makes you happy" and "Try everything [reasonable] you can").

But of course, even while I do not have traditional Asian parents that bound me, and would therefore let me have some more concrete connection to the situation in this book, I am still Asian by birthright, and this issue is one I find interesting and familiar.

Sorry. In a rambling mood. :P

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