#IMWAYR (7/13/2020): Parachutes by Kelly Yang (plus a giveaway of Julie Murphy's new book!)
For #IMWAYR, I am recommending Parachutes by Kelly Yang—and I'm also giving away a copy of Julie Murphy's new book, Faith: Taking Flight!
Review of Parachutes:
A word of caution to any young readers: Parachutes is a YA (young adult) book, not an MG (middle grade) book, and it contains mature content.
I was intrigued by this book for quite a while, but I finally decided to read it after seeing it praised by Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, and I'm so glad I did! Parachutes is told in chapters that alternate between the points of view of Claire Wang and Dani De La Cruz. Claire lives in Shanghai, China, and, although her wealthy parents don't seem to be able to love her except by spending money, she is relatively happy with her life, having friends and a boyfriend—which is why it feels like her life is falling apart when her parents decide to send her to live with a host family she doesn't know and attend an American private school called American Prep (a practice that is more common than you think—such students [who are usually from China] are nicknamed "parachutes"). Claire ends up living in the spare bedroom of Mrs. De La Cruz and her daughter, Dani, who is the debate-team star at American Prep and the favorite of her coach, Mr. Connelly. Dani hopes that doing well enough in debate will lead her to a scholarship to Yale so that she can help her mother escape the cycle of poverty, which has led both Dani and her mother to work as maids in order to get by. Throughout the story, Claire deals with navigating a foreign nation and putting her social life back together from scratch, including dating a parachute named Jay that practically everyone has a crush on, and Dani deals with crushes of her own and deciding how much pain she is willing to put up with in order to succeed.
This book is astoundingly good! I want to start off by mentioning that to many of you, the idea of students coming from China to the United States to live with families they don't know and attend schools with completely different cultures (and, quite frankly, abundant racism) may sound too insane to be real—but, indeed, it is very real. The main reason I was intrigued to read this book is that I actually attended a private high school where this practice was commonplace, but I am ashamed to say that I paid such students little attention while I was there and was pretty much clueless about how widespread of a practice this was. In Parachutes, Claire has to deal with living with a family she doesn't even know, being without her parents, having extreme freedom, being put in classes she is too smart for (she is lucky to be already fluent in English—many students at the school I attended were not fluent at all), and dealing with plenty of racism as well. I also appreciate that Claire is not the only student from China who gets attention in the story—in Dani's chapters, we hear from Dani's best friend, Ming, who, unlike Claire, has a terrible host family and does not have the wealth to automatically become the queen bee of the parachutes (like Claire does early in the story). I am glad that Parachutes is finally calling attention to the sometimes-nightmarish struggles that students from China have to deal with at American private schools.
This book also deals with sexual harassment and rape. You might have just read that sentence and thought, "Oh, I'm closing this review right now," but hear me out. This book, at least for many readers, is revelatory when it comes to its depiction of these issues. Yang herself had to deal with sexual assault while she was in law school (which she writes about in the book's author's note), which means two things. One: she has things to say about these issues. Two: this book is an even more astounding accomplishment when you consider how it ties in to Yang's own experiences. Parachutes shows how sexual harassment and rape can be committed by people who the victims trust most, and it shows both the awful pain and shame that results from the crimes and the ridiculous expectations of victims in our criminal justice system. Here's an example: we expect victims of rape to go to the police immediately, to tear open their already-raw wound as they relive their trauma with police officers who aren't exactly trained in sympathy, instead of expecting them to spend some time going to therapy, or hiding at home, or doing something that is even remotely reasonable considering the circumstances. Parachutes doesn't torture readers with the most unpleasant details, but it nevertheless gets the pain across. Even so, there is still an element of hope to the story that makes reading about these issues not as unpleasant as you might expect.
And now, the lightning round of other things I liked about this book. I haven't talked much about Dani yet, but she is a fabulous character: her drive to succeed in spite of all of the obstacles in her way is inspiring. Dani's devotion to debate is just one of many instances in this book of academics coming to the forefront, instead of being unrealistically pushed to the background like in many YA books. Except for one character readers are supposed to like named Zach (who I disliked quite a bit for some reason), the characters in this book are all fantastic; Claire and Dani are amazingly realistic protagonists (with a realistic relationship as well), and many side characters also get attention, bringing up issues such as being gay or being the child of unmarried parents that don't fit in the main plot line. The juxtaposition of the culture of China that Claire is used to (where pretty much anything reflects on one's family as a whole) with the American culture that she has to learn is incredibly well-developed (particularly because Claire's parents and their problems and advice factor heavily into the story). The juxtaposition between extreme wealth and poverty is also well-developed (the boundary between these factors is one that the characters learn to overcome over time). This book is long, but so much happens that you practically have to peel your eyes of off the pages in order to stop reading (I basically read the last third of the book in one day). Yang does an almost-superhuman job of bringing the many, many disparate elements of this book together into a whole that is not just cohesive, but requires each element in order to be understood.
Parachutes doesn't just realistically depict the experience of students from China attending school in the U.S., and it doesn't just teach its readers an immense amount about the experience of those who suffer sexual harassment and rape. This book also manages to showcase the relationships between parents and kids, the experiences related to being rich or poor, and the experiences related to being non-white in the U.S. Parachutes is truly an amazing achievement, and I am unable to express to you all how much I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
Update (1/2/2021): My rating is: Stunning!
Giveaway of Faith: Taking Flight:
On an unrelated note, I accidentally ordered two copies of Julie Murphy's new book, Faith: Taking Flight, so I figured I would give one of them away on this blog! Faith: Taking Flight is a prose YA novel that is based on a series of comics about a superhero named Faith. Julie Murphy had nothing to do with that series, but they brought her in to write at least two novels based on the comics. Since I am a huge fan of Julie Murphy (her YA book Ramona Blue was the first YA book I ever reviewed!), I am hugely excited to read this book! The publisher's description is as follows:
From Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin', comes the first in a two-book origin story of Faith, a groundbreaking, plus-sized superhero from the Valiant Entertainment comics.
Faith Herbert is a pretty regular teen. When she's not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, she's volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove.
So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there's also that small matter of recently discovering she can fly….
When the fictional world of The Grove crashes into Faith's reality as the show relocates to her town, she can't believe it when TV heroine Dakota Ash takes a romantic interest in her.
But her fandom-fueled daydreams aren't enough to distract Faith from the fact that first animals, then people, have begun to vanish from the town. Only Faith seems able to connect the dots to a new designer drug infiltrating her high school.
But when her investigation puts the people she loves in danger, she will have to confront her hidden past and use her newfound gifts—risking everything to save her friends and beloved town.
Sounds awesome, right?! I'm giving away an unsigned copy of this book—here are the rules:
- FYI, I am shipping this book myself; it is NOT coming from a bookseller.
- Entrants must have mailing addresses in the United States or Canada.
- Enter using the Google Form below, NOT the comments.
- Winners will be selected randomly.
- You must enter an email address so that I can contact you via email for a mailing address if you win. I will not keep or share your email address.
- Please, please, PLEASE give me an email address that you check regularly (including spam/junk), as I will choose a new winner if you do not respond to my initial email within 48 hours.
- You must also enter a nickname for me to post on my blog if you win; it does not need to be your real name (although it can be if you want).
- The last full day to enter this giveaway is Wednesday, July 15, 2020, as I will close the form the morning of Thursday, July 16, 2020.
- If you are reading this post in your email, click on the post title to open it in your browser and view the entry form below.