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5 Chinese American Stories To Check Out For Lunar New Year

With Lunar New Year coming up, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend my favourite stories by Chinese American authors and directors. As someone who identifies as Chinese Canadian, I didn’t see many relatable characters in the media who looked like me when I was growing up. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the lack of representation implied that minorities would never have the complexity to be what the media perceives as a dynamic character. However, due to social media and the increasing demand for representation in the media, Chinese American stories with intriguing characters and premises are beginning to get a lot more praise and recognition. So to my delight, I have recently become more aware of some excellent Chinese American stories, and I would love to share them with you!

1. The Farewell (2019, dir. Lulu Wang)

Plot summary: Billi, played by Awkwafina, learns that her grandmother has been diagnosed with cancer and only has a few more months left to live. However, Billi’s parents and the rest of the family want to hide the diagnosis from the grandmother so they decide to stage a fake wedding to stealthily say their goodbyes instead.

Why you should watch The Farewell: Lulu Wang perfectly encapsulates the differences between individualism in American culture and collectivism in Chinese culture in this semi-autobiographical drama. You can clearly acknowledge both sides of the argument –– whether it is morally correct to tell someone that they are dying or to protect them from living in fear for their remaining days. The cinematography is beautiful (which is a given, considering that it was distributed by A24) and there are several strong female performances. I recommend this movie if you want to watch a bittersweet drama about culture, family, and loss.

IMDb | Letterboxd | YouTube Movies | Amazon Prime Video 

2. White Ivy by Susie Yang

Plot summary: Ivy Lin is an ambitious thief and liar. White Ivy focuses on her mission to infiltrate the wealthy Speyer family. However, just as she gets comfortable attending luxurious dinners and fancy weekend getaways, someone from her past reappears, threatening to destroy her nearly perfect life. 

Why you should read White Ivy: I highly recommend this book because it addresses the important themes of class, race, social mobility and privilege, but through the lens of a morally grey protagonist. Ivy is such a well-written anti-hero, and I loved reading about her complex family relationships. I also really appreciate how Susie Yang writes Ivy’s character in a way that subverts the model minority myth. You should definitely check out this book if you’re looking for a very compelling coming-of-age psychological thriller.

Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

3. Saving Face (2004, dir. Alice Wu)

Plot summary: Saving Face is a romantic comedy-drama about Wil, a young surgeon, who falls in love with Vivian after they run into each other at the hospital. Even though Wil has a good relationship with her widowed mother, she is afraid of coming out to her. The rest of this movie focuses on Wil’s interactions with her family and Vivian, and what it means to embrace your identity. 

Why you should watch Saving Face: After crying my eyes out to The Half of It (2020) by the same director, I immediately had to check out this film. Saving Face is the first movie that I have heard of that explores the conflict between homosexuality and traditional Chinese values. While it is at some times fairly predictable, this movie is just what you need if you’re in the mood for watching a feel-good rom-com with a Chinese American twist. 

IMDb | Letterboxd | YouTube Movies | Amazon Prime Video

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Plot summary: Mia Warren and her daughter move to Shaker Heights, your typical American suburb, and rent a house from the picture-perfect Richardson family. However, tensions rise between the two families when some old acquaintances of the Richardsons instigate a major custody battle by deciding to adopt a Chinese American baby. 

Why you should read Little Fires Everywhere: Celeste Ng’s writing is so beautiful and perfectly captures the range of human emotion. A lot of time is spent developing the characters and the setting, which makes it really easy to be immersed in this world. The highlight of this book for me was everything involving the custody case. I thought it was very impactful, as it encouraged me to critically think about interracial adoption and its impact on cultural identity.

Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

5. Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Plot summary: The title, Parachutes, refers to what you would call young teenagers who are forced to immigrate to the United States for education purposes while their wealthy parents remain in China. Claire Wang is one of these “parachutes” and she has to learn how to navigate her newfound freedom in an entirely different country. Also told from the perspective of Dani De La Cruz, who is Claire’s new host sister, this book covers important themes of love, identity, culture, and family that should not be ignored.

Why you should read Parachutes: Parachutes sensitively addresses the relevant topics of classism, racism, and sexual assault. Although they are heavy subjects, I believe that this is a story that should be read by a lot more people, especially those in the young adult demographic. The author’s note at the end is especially impactful, as it demonstrates the importance of reading from diverse characters’ perspectives and understanding their experiences, so further action can be taken when these situations happen in real life.
Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

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Vancouver, BC | Western University
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