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.