The Wangs vs. the World is one of those books you can’t wait to read after hearing all the buzz about it. This riches-to-rags story of an immigrant family in Great Recession America was all over my feeds for a while.
Spoiler: while I didn’t LOVE this book once I finally got my hands on it, there’s plenty to discuss. Let’s dig in:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test multiple times, mostly through conversations between older sister Saina and younger sister Gracie. Also passes easily for racial rep, as most of the characters are Chinese heritage, either immigrants or American-born.
I gave full points in the Not Offensive category, but I do want to point out a weird trend I’ve noticed: in books about Chinese Americans or Chinese immigrants in America (I read a lot of these), I keep coming across women side characters named Maylee. This name is an Anglicization of the Chinese word meili, which means ‘beautiful’. These Maylee characters are always beautiful, and always have no depth whatsoever. I feel like this shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but exterior beauty does not equal shallowness.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
The main characters are siblings Saina, Andrew, and Gracie, as well as their father. We also hear about their stepmother Barbra’s journey to the US from Taiwan. Saina and Gracie are both strong characters, well-drawn and distinct from each other and the characters around them. We spend time in the heads of each of these characters, and that gives a deep look into their motivations as they react to and process what they’re going through.
Recommended: Georgia crosses modern-day Asia on the hunt for the ancient secret to immortality in A.H. Wang’s The Imperial Alchemist.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 2/4 pts
This book was at its best when it was an allegory for hubris that led to the 2008 financial crisis. I really enjoyed reading fiction that examined a period of time I lived through, and that we continue to feel the effects of.
But it was at its worst when it tried to make us feel bad for a bunch of rich people losing their money. The story treated money as a binary question, and didn’t examine the privilege that the Wangs had that would surely lift them out of their dire financial straits soon enough.
Join Rachel Chu as she follows her boyfriend to Singapore…and discovers a whole new world, in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians.
And while the characters were interesting, the book was pitched as a comedy, and it wasn’t that funny. It’s more of a satirical family drama than a laugh riot, so the marketing did it a disservice there.
My favorite interaction of the book is when Barbra, a Taiwanese immigrant, is left to look after her American-born stepdaughter Saina’s sprawling home in upstate New York. Saina says “I don’t think the original designer ever expected some Asian lady to be staying here.” Barbra responds, “But you’re some Asian lady.” I wish the book had had more of these subtle and thought-provoking moments about belonging.
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Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
Despite the storytelling flaws, the book easily passes here because of the nature of the story. While diverse books can be found, the yearly VIDA count reminds us we have a long way to go before publishing is truly equal. Jade Chang’s story of immigrants and first generation families and their connections to their home countries will surely resonate for people who don’t see their stories represented often enough.
Click here to buy The Wangs vs. the World, then tell us what you thought in the comments!
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