Loveboat, Taipei manages to be a book about finding romance in unlikely places, parental and self-imposed expectations, being part of a diaspora, and being true to oneself. Both though-provoking and entertaining, you’ll find yourself invested before you know it.
Thank you for Fantastic Flying Book Club for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour! Check out a fan-made playlist (and more surprises) for Loveboat, Taipei below.
Title: Loveboat, Taipei
Author: Abigail Hing Wen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
I received an eARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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?
Trigger warnings: alcohol, slut-shaming, domestic abuse, depression
Everett, Ever for short, is a second-generation Taiwanese-American set to start Northwestern’s medical program in a few months. She would much rather be at Tisch School of the Arts pursuing her love of dance. Since she can’t, however, Ever prepares to spend her summer dancing her heart out (and studying, always studying). Except her parents have another idea; they’ve enrolled her in a summer program in Taiwan where she will be learning more about her Chinese heritage. Ever is in for more than she expected when she realizes the program is popular for the misadventures and romances.
Throughout the book, I felt my heart expand in fondness. I began learning Mandarin four years ago and studied abroad in China summer 2018. All the pinyin and cultural references reminded me why I’m pursuing diplomacy as a career. I love the connections you can make with people when you understand them, through language, culture, and shared experiences. I’ve been experiencing a lot of self-doubt so reading this book came at the right time.
Loveboat, Taipei features a diverse cast of characters in terms of ethnicity, cultural background, socioeconomic status, personality, and talents. Despite juggling approximately four main characters, Hing Wen manages to seamlessly balance an ensemble of approximately 10 (give or take) characters throughout the story. It somehow manages to not be too much. It also allows for a bucketful of realistic drama because when there’s that many people involved, shit hits the fan.
In addition to this, I loved Loveboat, Taipei because it balances entertainment with dialogues about gritty topics. It raises awareness to a few of the problems that Asians and Asian immigrants face, from stereotypes, parental and self-imposed expectations, stigma against mental health, discrimination in higher education selection process, career snobbery, etc. It is obviously a lot to discuss but this book manages to at least bring up these issues by embedding it into the narrative of different characters so the conversations comes organically.
One of the biggest underlying themes is what means to be a second-generation immigrant. Loveboat, Taipei manages to capture the complex emotions well. Slight resentment of rules. Overwhelming stress to meet expectations. Desire to make your parents proud. Desperation as you find yourself torn between multiple identities. Underlying familial love. Sense of duty. It varies for each character. So it’s empowering to read how they each find the approach that works for them. They make mistakes along the way, which only makes them more endearing, because haven’t we been there?
There’s a lot more I can say about this book but the last things I want to highlight is the character development. Ever has the most dramatic development, even though it is incremental. However, I want to focus more on the development of her love interests. When we are first introduced to them, we perceive them through the stereotypes she has heard them to fit. Yet throughout Loveboat, Taipei, we peel behind their public masks to reveal very flawed, real, and human characters. I grew to love them both and even struggled to decide how I wanted the romance to end since I wanted the best for everyone involved.
Loveboat, Taipei is a stellar #ownvoices debut that manages to wear multiple roles. Most notably, it is a coming-of-age travel adventure. It is a call to embrace the parts of yourself that you’re afraid to. It is also a love story to Taiwan, Taiwanese culture, and the Chinese language.
Abigail was born in West Virginia to a family of immigrants: Her mother is from the Philippines and her father from Indonesia, and her grandparents emigrated to those countries from Fujian and Shandong provinces in China.
Abigail grew up in Ohio and graduated from Harvard University and Columbia Law School. She worked in Washington DC for the Senate, as a law clerk for a federal judge. and now in Silicon Valley in venture capital and artificial intelligence. She also earned her Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In her spare time, she enjoys long walks with her husband and two boys, and hanging out with friends and over 100 family members in the Bay Area. She loves music and dances to it when no one is watching.
Click here to enter to win 1 of 2 finished copies of Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen. Open only to U.S. residents. This giveaway starts January 1 and ends January 15.