Sunday, August 14, 2022

Private Label, by Kelly Yang

Being Chinese-American in a overwhelming white SoCal community is hard.  Serene has managed it by buying her friends.  For her twelfth birthday, her fashion designer mother set up an expensive party that put Serene on the A list.  Ever since, periodic offerings of her Mom's collection pieces to the other girls helps to grease Serene's social standing.  

Lian doesn't have that option.  All he can offer is his homework, which his "friends" eagerly copy.  

They also struggle to realize their dreams.  Serene's dream is to become a fashion designer like her mother, but the financial stakeholders in her Mom's company are resistant to her.  And when her own mother falls terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, they make a power play to take over the company and shut her out.  

Lian dreams of some day being a stand-up comic, having his classmates laugh with him, rather than at him.  His immigrant parents are committed to send him to MIT as an engineer, but he can't stand the idea.  As they will never accept his dream, he goes around behind their back trying to make it come true.  The results are predictably disastrous.

Though they share a similar experience of racism and challenges in their lives, they don't realize it because they move in different circles.  However, a fortuitous decision by Lian to found a Chinese Club in his school and Serene's impulsive decision to attend it brings the two of them together and they find that they each have a key to the other's future success.

It's a winning tale of two kids who have dreams and whose hearts are in the right place, but it is a story that is best to not overly analyze.  The characters are fairly thin, the issues oversimplified, and the resolution a bit too easy.  However, I enjoyed reading and, as things finally fell into place, I found the book hard to put down.  Good light reading.

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