Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

Courtesy of barnesandnoble.com

Gr 8 Up—Cara Chow’s debut novel (Egmont, 2010) is set in 1980s San Francisco where high school senior Frances struggles to please her Chinese-immigrant mother. There’s plenty of tension because rigorous maternal expectations are sometimes punctuated with verbal and physical abuse. Will Frances fulfill her mother’s plan by attending U.C. Berkeley and becoming a doctor, or will this top student turn to her newly discovered talent for public speaking? To avoid confrontation with her mother, Frances lies to hide her speech competition schedule, but seeks support from her Chinese-American friend, Teresa, an insightful teacher, and Derek, a boy who’s a top-notch public speaking competitor. Frances’s desire for self-determination grows until she must face her mother’s anger to make her own way. Narrator Nancy Wu communicates the protagonist’s emotional turmoil. Her skilled Chinese-accented English is authentic but easily understood. With high school dances and college application decisions, this first-person narrative has the passionate personality of a memoir. It will open frank discussion for students who seesaw between parental expectations and individual dreams. An excellent choice for middle and high school collections, and with Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin, 2011) drawing attention to parenting the Chinese way, it should also garner adult interest in public libraries.—Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT

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