14 June 2011
Chow, Cara. Bitter Melon. New York: Egmont, 2011.
Frances and her mom live in a small apartment in San Francisco's Richmond district. Frances's mom works long hours at a back-breaking job so that Frances can attend a private school and receive a top-rate education. All she asks for in exchange is that Frances do her very best in everything all the time. Frances is trying hard to fulfill her mother's dreams for her: to get high scores on the SAT, to attend UC Berkeley where she can study to become a doctor, and to embark on a successful career where she can care for her mother as her mother has cared for her. But Frances is beginning to chafe under the weight of her mother's dreams, and with the help of a computer error that lands her in speech class instead of calculus, begins to choose her own path.
I almost didn't finish this book. The San Francisco references were super-obvious, but not in a way that made me think, "Oh, cool! I've been there!" It seemed more like a tour book of the city. That, and this book has dated itself. In the first fifty pages alone there were references to The Little Mermaid, Aqua-Net, and The New Kids on the Block. Added to the large earthquake that happened on a weekday afternoon, I'd place this book in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area.
I was also very bothered by the mother's constant criticism of the daughter; nothing Frances did was ever good enough. I sympathized with Frances and cheered for her as she started to make her own decisions about her future. I almost cried when Frances's mother beat her with the trophy Frances herself had won at a speech tournament, but I was glad that this book had a happy ending.
Like I said, I almost didn't finish this book. The pop-culture references from the late eighties dated the book, and the strong emphasis on Chinese culture without highlighting any of its beauties almost gave this book a "fictional memoir" feel. The same story with the same lessons has been repeated in many places (if you don't believe me, watch Ice Princess). This book isn't a beach read, but it is a good "see how authors are treating child abuse in YA literature" read.