Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard the idea of unconditional love outside the context of religion. In theology class, I always hear about God’s love, about his loving us even though we’re sinners. But the idea that real live parents could be unconditionally loving is completely foreign… How can anyone be loved not for what they do but for who they are? Isn’t who you are defined by what you do?”

There are some books that really hit home. Books that you can relate to, so that when you’re reading them you feel a personal connection to the characters or to the events occurring. For me, Bitter Melon was one of those books. In many ways this book doesn’t deserve such a high rating – the romance was awkward and the protagonist a bit unbelievable at times – but because of how much I empathized with Frances, the main character, I loved the book anyway.

Frances Ching’s goal is to attend Berkeley and become a doctor. That may not be her goal as much as it is her mother’s, but for her the two are interchangeable. That’s the case until Frances accidentally enrolls in a speech course and ends up loving it – for the first time, she’s discovered a passion that solely belongs to her. However, her affection for public speaking conflicts with what her mom wants her to do. Despite Frances’s past obedience to her mother, she decides to take a risk and starts making her own choices in life. This leads to a collision between Frances’s own dreams and her mom’s hurtful – and in the end, Frances will only be able to choose one.

I know how it feels to be in Frances’s position. To be afraid of disobeying your parents even if it’s the right thing to do, to be afraid of acting on your own when it goes against their wishes, to be afraid of them in general. Every time Frances’s mom compared her to one of her friends, called her stupid or fat, or hit her mercilessly, my heart ached. That’s why seeing Frances grow into her own person by the end of the novel amazed me. Every time she told herself that it’s okay to be imperfect, I cheered. There was one dramatic scene at the end where I cried unabashedly, because I knew it was something I should do but I don’t have the strength to do… yet.

Let me make it clear: children with parents coming from strict cultures still appreciate them. Frances is aware of how much her mom has sacrificed for her and obviously does her best to repay that debt. Also, she and I both know that our parents only want the best for us – that’s why they push us so hard. Yet when that familial love manifests into abuse, there’s something wrong. You should never have to beat your kid or make them hate themselves to convey how much you love them. Never.

Overall, a powerful and moving novel. Not flawless, but the sheer strength of Chow’s storytelling made those minor negative aspects almost disappear. Highly recommended to teens who have helicopter or tiger parents, and for others who simply want to understand those that do.

Thanks goes to The Dubious Seeker for recommending this book to me.

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4 Comments

Filed under 4.5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

4 responses to “Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

  1. Are we twins separated at birth or something? Believe it or not that’s exactly the way that I feel. The fear of disappointing our parents, but I don’t think mine are as stiff as your mom. But still … I, too, am on a course of becoming a doctor and I’m yet to figure out it this is what *I* want. I love to help heal people and improve their lives in what way that I can but is this exactly what’s right for me?
    I know it seems right for my parents so I go with the flow not wanting to seem ungrateful. My parents are open minded on what I’d like to be but then they’ll ask countless times if I’m sure and the guilty feeling seeps in and in the end I’m where I’ve started, the doctor.
    I also can understand what Frances is going through – to an extent. I know that I’ve said I’m going to read a number of books so this going down as well, I might get to it next …

    • Yes, some aspects of life are a difficult mix of trying to please your parents and figuring out what you want to do yourself. However, in your case, I feel like as long as you work hard and try your best your parents will be happy with whatever you choose to do – especially if you talk to them about it and tell them why you want to pursue whatever you’re pursuing. Also, it’s perfectly natural for you not to know what you want to do yet… some people don’t figure out what job they’re going to get or whether they’ll be going to medical school to become a doctor until their last year of college. In other words, as long as you don’t give up I believe you’ll be fine. (:

      If you read this one I will definitely read your review of it. As well as any other books you review that I’m familiar with.

  2. melanie

    i didn’t really like the ending, but I LOVED THE REST 😀 ITS A GREAT BOOK, and it almost made me want to cry ):
    Derek♥Frances (:

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