I’ve read a fair few Chinese authors, and Chinese-American authors, and I too went through that phase about 15 years ago of reading all those books about the various horrible aspects of growing up in China during the 1950s (Chinese Cinderella, Daughter of China etc etc etc), however, almost unbelievably, PP Wong is the FIRST British born Chinese novelist to be published in the UK. And this, her debut full length novel, is quite justifiably angry about that.
Twelve year old Xing Li was born and raised in London, but still gets asked where she’s ‘really’ from. When her mother dies she and her older brother, the indignant Lai Ker, are sent to live with her venomous and often abusive Grandma. Having to cope with the grief of her mother’s death and the strange new world of the rich to which her Grandma belongs, Xing Li also has the hideous, hideous, bullying at school and racism on the streets.
This is a slightly dis-jointed book in some places, but overall the rage and fire that runs through it at the treatment of Chinese people in all sectors of society, from the stereotypical type-casting in films and TV to the assumptions that, because one Chinese person is good at Maths, all Chinese people are, make this a visceral, angry and powerful read.
This book made me really think about how I see racism. As a white British person I have a heck of a lot of privilege and books like this one, which include some rather dark moments, are so important in showing just what being constantly abused and undermined because of your race can be like. One sad thing though, this book does contain a couple of moments of rather nasty transphobia, which seemed a shame and did not fit with the rather intersectional stance of the rest of the content.
Out on the 1 September, published by Legend Press, this would make a great addition to any school library, and would be a good book to discuss in book groups or with teenage children (though I would read it myself first as some scenes could be quite triggering and upsetting). PP Wong is the editor of the BananaWriters collective, that supports East Asian and South Eat Asian writers, and I wish them all the best of luck and hope more books get published in the future!