Dear Ms. Wong Keltner,
I suspect I’m not the proper audience for this book. I love young adult novels and I want to read more stories featuring non-Caucasian protagonists, but stories about young adults written for adults? I’m starting to think they’re not to my taste.
Fourteen-year-old Candace Ong is approaching the end of the eighth grade. While she works in her parents’ San Francisco Chinese restaurant frying eggrolls and making wontons, Candace dreams of Adam Ant and being the type of girl who’d grace the cover of a rock and roll album. She loves hanging out with her fellow Chinese-American friend, Ruby, who’s pretty, popular, and adored by boys. Candace wants a way out of her current life but there’s some truth to the old saying, Be careful what you wish for, because when she gets the chance, the price and the risks just might outweigh the reward.
My main problem with this book is that the characters are neither likable nor sympathetic. I don’t require those qualities all the time, but I need a compelling reason to root for the characters if they’re not present. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one here either. Candace is a doormat and an enabler. Her friend Ruby is a user. She takes Candace’s clothes and toys under the pretense of claiming they’re non-trendy or fashion mistakes. It’s not like Candace doesn’t know this. Ruby will confiscate a skirt because it’s ugly, and yet she’ll wear it the next day. Ruby acts like they’re best friends one day and then plays humiliating pranks on Candace the next. She steals the guy Candace is interested in and makes no apologies for it. And whenever they go out, Ruby ditches her to have sex with random boys she meets on the street. Again, Candace knows all this. She’ll complain and whine, but she won’t do anything about it.
That leads us to my second major problem with the novel. I just don’t get the sexual fixation. The fact that they’re eighth graders makes it even worse. Candace masturbates with her stuffed animals, which has so many levels of wrong to it I don’t know where to begin. On top of that, there’s a thread of pedophilia running through the story I don’t care for. The “boy” Candace likes isn’t one, and she knows his interest in her is perverted and wrong. By the time we reached the underaged porn development in the second half of the novel, I was done with Candace’s story.
That said, while I didn’t care for the underaged porn development at all, its introduction brought some much needed focus to the book. The first half of the novel drags and wanders aimlessly in search of a plot. But frankly, it was a distasteful storyline that was too little too late.
And then there was the paranormal storyline involving Ruby. I admit I didn’t really see the point and it simply didn’t fit the story we’d been reading until then. I also didn’t think Ruby earned her reward, not after all the nasty things she’d done to Candace. One bad thing happening to her simply doesn’t excuse that, not for so little penance and effort.
I think people who loved the early 1980s might find something to like here, but I’m afraid I’m a little too young to fully appreciate the pop culture references and that setting in novels just doesn’t interest me. A D for the first half, but the second half brought this up to a C-.