01 Sep / Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong [in Booklist]
In the short opening paragraph introducing a young man watching his mother approach the LAX curb in her new Prius, debut novelist Ryan Lee Wong manages to pack in generation gaps, climate change, brutal colonialism, and “let[ting] go of that ancestral sh*t sooner or later.”
Columbia student Reed has returned home because his grandmother is dying. He’s recently become a “serious activist,” protesting yet another Black man’s wrongful killing, this time by a Chinese American NYPD officer. His urgent declarations aren’t impressing his Berkeley-trained, political-careered Chinese American dad (unions) and Korean American mom (nonprofits), who “talked about [his] activism with the same condescension other parents talked about their kids’ singer-songwriter career.”
Over the next few days, in between maternal sessions in self-care, Reed’s foulmouthed mother reveals her history as cofounder of L.A.’s Black-Korean Coalition, her childhood immigration, and her dying mother’s lifelong suffering. Arriving with polarizing platitudes, Reed returns to school with invaluable lessons on the dangers of simplistic idealism, conventional history, better allyship, and unconditional love.
With empathy plus sighing, cringing, and laughing, Wong provides quite the education for us all.
YA/General Interest: The revelations of Wong’s protagonist will resonate with mature teens, especially those with parents whose lives they’ve never questioned.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult