Book Review: Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication date: Dec 2010
ISBN:  9781606841266
Source: Review copy provided by publicist

Bitter Melon

Frances has her entire life mapped out for her by her mother.  She will graduate from her prestigious private high school, attend Berkeley, and become a doctor.  Once she has achieved all these things, she will be able to heal her mothers' illness and let her finish her life in luxury.  But the pressure to get the best grades, the highest scores, is mounting and when Frances finds an outlet that doesn't go along with those plans, will she find the strength to stand up to her mother?

Things I Liked:
This was a really interesting look at the power and influence parents can have on their children's lives and choices.  Frances felt very real to me, at once interested in pleasing and helping her mother and also feeling very confined and overwhelmed with her demands.  It is a book filled with characters who are split in many ways - Frances, obviously. Her mother, who at once sacrifices so much for her daughter and also is so brutally hard on her.  Her friend, Theresa, who wants to help Frances do things behind her mothers' back, but is afraid to.  Theresa's mom who tries to soften Frances' mothers' violence, but still maintains the same standards for her own daughter.  It was compelling almost solely because of these contradictions.  Nothing is black and white, nothing is completely true or false.  

Mom's chopsticks move on to the bitter melon with sliced beef. The shiny dark green crescents have eyelet patterns on the outside.  The alkaline smell fills my mouth with a taste similar to that of an unripe persimmon.  The cook has added sugar to the dish, but no sweetness can dull the bitter taste that lingers on the tongue, tainting everything else you eat. p 42
But what if your family is like a small, cramped house, and what if speech is a window giving you a view to the outside?  What if, one day, that window opened and you could just fly out? p 253
Things I Didn't Like:
I think in many ways, it portrays a stereotype.  While that may not be bad, in and of itself, it does seem to perpetuate that stereotype.  I don't know enough about it to make serious judgments on that topic though.  Also, the writing felt uneven to me.  At times, it flowed well and carried the story along, but then it would become very bland and tell-not-show.  I was totally unaware for the first several chapters that it wasn't set quite in the present time (1980s).  That made for some confusion and I think should have been clearly introduced earlier.  Still, the book is carried along by the interesting relationships and choices of Frances.

The most obvious choice, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

s-factor: !
maybe one or two

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
a few instances of hitting, but not much

Overall rating: ****

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