Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen Book Review
Now that we’re well into 2020, and I’ve been reading everyone’s list of anticipated reads for this year, I’m starting to realize how much people want to read this novel – and I can confirm that I’d definitely recommend you to do so. This book was a beauty.
For fans of Crazy Rich Asians or Jane Austen Comedy of Manners, with a hint of La La Land
When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.
Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
A concept in books that I personally adore and think a lot of authors should incorporate more into their novels are important themes that can create change in the real world for readers. Things that are important to communicate and talk about to the young adult audience whether they can directly relate to it or not, and Loveboat, Taipei definitely came through with some of those themes.
We are introduced to Ever Wong, this young, passionate character who loves dancing more than anything else and wants to pursue it as a career. Unfortunately, coming from a strict Taiwanese family who immigrated to the United States, she is somewhat forced into studying and going into a career in Medicine even though she faints at the sight of blood. Out of nowhere, instead of spending her last summer with her friends, she’s shipped out to Taiwan for a program (which is actually a real program!) called Chien Tan. This program brought a lot of fun to this event, as she finds out that it’s mostly used for matchmaking rather than teaching young Asian-Americans Mandarin and more about their ancestral Taiwanese culture.
This book was just so plain interesting and relatable. Although I don’t come from a family forcing me to study medicine at college, I’ve had friends who were thrust into careers they were not passionate about. The idea of children living out the dreams of their parents seems relatively common in many families, especially of immigrant families trying to get by in a new foreign country. It really hit me many times when Ever spoke about her gratitude towards everything her parents sacrificed for her and her sister, but it can be said that there is a line and it can be crossed when it comes to trying to dictate someone’s future.
The writing in this was so easy to read, you could easily speed through this contemporary and because of that, you can really feel the rush and the excitement as things happen. It did not feel like a book over 400 pages for sure but it was not necessarily fast-paced – this novel just showcased the idea of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ really well, especially when the worst happens and the story visibly slows as Ever has to navigate her new and alarming situations.
The plot was interesting because it wasn’t solely based around Ever finishing or surviving through this program (without getting caught going out with her friends) but also about how she can find a way to still pursue her passion of dancing in Taiwan while she was there.
I also really loved the character development in the book, which there was more than I originally anticipated. We get to see Ever learn from her mistakes, especially when she realises that breaking every rule in her parent’s book doesn’t mean it’ll make her happier. That defiance isn’t the answer to feeling real freedom and that things don’t always seem like what they appear when it comes to friendships and family relationships. It’s truly a coming-of-age novel and emphasised the importance of communication among family, friends and having the courage to put your trust in someone, whether it’s about telling a secret, telling the truth or just staying true to yourself and your beliefs.
My only qualm with this book is that I’m not a fan of love triangles at all, and there was kind of one in the book – almost a love quadrangle too at one point. It was the worst and best way to represent complicated relationships in an environment where these teens aren’t entirely expected to find their future spouses but there is the underlying expectation that you’ll at least find or experience love there.
Finding out that this program is real also made this more exciting; as if I’m reading a story that is partially and/or has potentially actually occurred in real life. A dramatised version of it obviously because the drama was real in Loveboat, Taipei. It made me more aware of how cool it would be if more countries did this to first-generation or second-generation teens, to learn more about their family’s culture and ancestry. It’s definitely something I’d sign up for!
Overall, this was such an enjoyable, fast read. I’d say it has some great representation, specifically for dyslexia which I don’t see often in YA books and it is a very strong debut for Abigail. Definitely, recommended!
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a requested eARC in exchange for my review. The book has just come out on the 7th of January, so a belated happy book birthday to Loveboat, Taipei!
Until next time,