Buzzfeed Recommends Part One: Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen Review

This is the first review in my ‘Buzzfeed Recommends Series’ where I read and review all the books Buzzfeed recommended in their article: ’15 Brand-New Young Adult Novels That Are Just So, So, Good’. You can read the summary for that here.

‘Loveboat, Taipei’ by Abigail Hing Wen focuses on Ever’s struggle navigating her heritage and the American culture she’s known all her life, and her journey into becoming her own person and discovering what makes her happy all whilst being on a summer program notorious for it’s partying. The is a debut novel and currently has an average rating of 3.91 on Goodreads.

‘Maybe part of fighting the unhappiness in this world is to seize happiness when we can’

This book left me feeling very, very conflicted, perhaps because the book had so much drama and so much going on in such a short space of time it was hard to know what to feel. It was made especially harder by the fact Wen doesn’t choose one social issue to focus on, or maybe a couple to talk about, she chooses nearly all of them. There are discussions of racism, what it’s like to be an American born person of Chinese descent, domestic abuse, dyslexia, the pressure of family ( i.e. unhealthy family dynamics), revenge porn, coming of age, depression, unhealthy romantic relationships and I’m sure there’s some things I’m missing. Honestly, it was like reading a soap opera, I half expected it to play EastEnder’s theme tune.

Ever is our main character, she’s a America born person of Chinese descent. She is struggling with the expectations her family places on her after giving up everything to give her a life in America, unfortunately she doesn’t want to be the doctor they want her to be. Ever at first is very unlikable. She’s very rude to everyone for no reason, even when they’re nice to her, and it could be understandable as she’s been sent away unwillingly for the summer, but it goes beyond feeling a little grumpy – she’s just rude. I do however think she does grow throughout the novel, and whilst she still has her kind of rude and sulking moments, there’s less of them and those moments feel more induced by stress.

Our other main characters Sophie, Xavier and Rick all go through varying degrees of change also, and whilst they all become a little more round and less like flat-characters I just didn’t connect with any of them. All of them felt like plot devices and mechanisms used to propel Ever forward rather than like their own characters. Even their own struggles couldn’t be overcome without Ever pushing all of them in the ‘right’ direction.

Perhaps they also felt flat due to the weird love square Wen was trying to push. All of them like each other, and if they didn’t like each other they were related or hated each other, and again it felt very soap opera. They were all rude to each other, and so much unnecessary drama was created through lack of communication between the characters. The main relationship we were meant to root for I just couldn’t get behind, I could see how they would be good together, but the timing for both characters was poor. It felt very forced and as if Wen thought she had to have a happy romantic ending – and maybe she does, it is a YA novel. By the end I didn’t want anyone to end up with each other, they all needed to be single and grow. Also, when Wen tried imitate Sarah. J Maas with one of the couples I was left feeling quite disturbed, especially when an orgasm is likened to a a ‘supernova’ and then it’s the final word in the book, and it’s used to describe Ever feeling happy; I don’t know why that choice was made but it wasn’t a good one.

I personally think these kinds of soap opera like books aren’t for me, but I don’t want to drag it too much for that because that’s a personal taste thing, although there a few criticisms surrounding that that are valid. However, one thing that took it too far for me was when Ever and he dad reunited just before the big event in the story where Ever was going to come into her own and realise herself. A couple of chapters before she confided in Rick her biggest fear was being injured so badly she couldn’t dance anymore, and then both her and dad were injured in an accident just before she was meant to dance, and that was a little bit too on the nose for me. It really wasn’t needed as there was enough drama in that chapter already, and it felt like a very cheap way to try and shock the reader. Maybe you would like that kind of thing, but to me it felt like too much was done just for the sake of drama.

However, I think it was commendable Wen tried to address so many social issues in one book, and such important issues too, but when you talk about this many social issues in such a short space of time you don’t get the opportunity to fully address them. I think the topic of being an immigrant of Chinese descent living in America and the racism, but also the struggle of two clashing cultures that impact family dynamics was very well explored (please remember this is coming from a white person, so do check out reviewers who are not for more on this topic). I think Wen did a very good job on this, and you could really feel Ever’s pain and everyone else’s who spoke about it.

However, I don’t feel this way about all the topics explored in the novel, some were just glossed over when they shouldn’t have been. It is mentioned in the book Rick’s girlfriend, Jenna, is suffering from undiagnosed depression and he has to carry on in the relationship in fear of what she could do. It all feels very underdeveloped as a plot line, but also once Rick takes action over the matter it seems to be resolved fairly quickly, which is not how mental health problems or illnesses work. Sophie is literally in a abusive relationship and it’s used as a mechanism to reunite Sophie and Ever after a falling out. It’s addressed but then brushed under the rug and never mentioned again, and Wen makes no mention of the lasting impact that could have on Sophie as a young woman. I personally can’t get behind that, if you’re going to write about domestic abuse in any form address it properly, do not use it to be some plot device to reunite friends that should have never been reunited.

Here is my main problem with the novel, when Sophie finds out Ever kissed Xavier, a boy she likes but she broke up with earlier she takes naked photos of Ever from a shoot and prints twenty copies of them and she distributes them to their friends, Ever’s dance studio and the teachers at their Summer program. Ever is kicked out of her studio, and is almost immediately sent home from the summer program and has to deal with the humiliation and embarrassment that would come with it. Originally, I thought Wen was going to address this well as there’s a very powerful moment where Ever stands and asks boys for copies of the photos back and they give them to her, yet that was the one shining moment in a dumpster truck of trash. Ever decides she needs to forgive Sophie for making her the victim of revenge porn, and I thought that was a very strange decision from the author. It’s a very personal decision for victims as to whether or not they should or even can forgive people who commit crimes against them, and if you want to explore that topic as an author you should be careful how you do that, yet I don’t believe Wen was careful when doing this. It’s Ever who figures out Sophie is the one in an abusive relationship and helps her to escape from it and ultimately that’s what brings them together again, but it shouldn’t. I don’t disagree Ever shouldn’t have helped her, I think most of us would in that circumstance, but Wen uses this as the moment Ever forgives Sophie and allows her back into her life. Sophie literally commits revenge porn against her and whilst it’s okay to show a victim may choose to forgive, you should not show that victims should be friends with these people. It’s wrong, and a really bad message to send to teenage girls and young woman, if someone commits revenge porn against you call the police, do not forgive them unless you want to and certainly do not let them back into your life even if you forgive them.

Also, another problem with this plotline is we discover Xavier has held onto one of Ever’s naked pictures after she’s been looking for the final copy for a while, and instead of being angry, upset or hurt that someone she considered a friend has hidden this from her Ever doesn’t really seem to feel anything. Again, it’s very careless from the author to promote this kind of messaging, that kind of behaviour is not okay in any circumstance.

I think despite the fact it’s entertaining, and Wen addressed issues surrounding race and being an immigrant or being born to immigrants in America really well I can never recommend this book because of the revenge porn plotline and how it was dealt with, and for that I have to give it one star.

I don’t know what Buzzfeed was thinking with this one, because of all the people I would have thought Buzzfeed would have hated this revenge porn plotline. I don’t know how Buzfeed missed the mark this badly, but this series of ‘Buzzfeed Recommend’ is not off to a great start.

Buzzfeed Recommends Series:

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