Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"My Summer of Love and Misfortune"

Lindsay Wong is the author of the bestselling, award-winning memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family. She has a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University, and she is now based in Vancouver, Canada.

Wong applied the Page 69 Test to My Summer of Love and Misfortune, her first YA novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 on My Summer Of Love And Misfortune, Iris Wang has arrived at Beijing International Airport, and she’s feeling lost, exhausted, and scared. She’s seventeen-years old, and doesn’t speak the language and feels incredibly overwhelmed after being sent away by her parents (it’s the first time that she’s travelling without them). She has also just damaged her iPhone by dropping it into the toilet, and she suddenly realizes that her father didn’t tell her who her uncle was--her family is really exceptional at keeping secrets and not talking about subjects that make them uncomfortable.

This is a momentous moment in the novel when Iris realizes that all her disastrous decisions (i.e. not studying for the SATS, half-assing her college admissions essays) have landed her in this predicament. She’s alone, without family, friends, and can’t communicate in Mandarin.

Shockingly, this test works incredibly well for my book because the theme of My Summer Of Love And Misfortune is stated explicitly on page 69. “I can’t help but take being sent to China personally,” Iris Wang declares.

Iris is certainly ashamed of her list of mistakes, but she is also horrified that her parents’ deal with the problem by sending her away without discussing the issue. It’s only in Beijing where she begins a summer of self-discovery and the chaos of the airport as well as her own invisibility became a metaphor for landing in a strange new land.

Life becomes messier and more foreign for Iris as she is chauffeured out of the airport and continues stampeding through Beijing where she learns about her family and their murky secrets, and she slowly makes sense of what it’s like being torn between two cultures and begins to reconcile them. Is she American-Chinese or is she Chinese-American? It becomes something of an internal struggle for her and she has to learn to make sense of them in her own way.

Growing up between two cultures, I have always been interested in exploring what it means to grow up in one culture but inextricably have ties to another country that I have never been to, until recently, as a grown-up, I was given a chance to visit Hong Kong. I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, never learned to speak Mandarin, yet I also grew up with eastern values of family piety. I didn’t feel either North-American or Chinese enough, however.

I wanted the novel to reflect what it’s like being of dual identities while also exploring eastern notions of family duty vs. western ideas of the self as an individual. In Chinese culture, there is an emphasis for children to please their parents, but North American culture prizes independence and individualism. When Iris is sent to Beijing, she gets severe culture shock as she witnesses how her straight A, rule-abiding, uppity cousin Ruby was brought up, while she has essentially been allowed to do whatever she has wanted in New Jersey.