Book Review: Our Wayward Fate

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Synopsis

“Seventeen-year-old Ali Chu knows that as the only Asian person at her school in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, she must be bland as white toast to survive. This means swapping her congee lunch for PB&Js, ignoring the clueless racism from her classmates and teachers, and keeping her mouth shut when people wrongly call her Allie instead of her actual name, pronounced Āh-lěe, after the mountain in Taiwan.

Her autopilot existence is disrupted when she finds out that Chase Yu, the new kid in school, is also Taiwanese. Despite some initial resistance due to the “they belong together” whispers, Ali and Chase soon spark a chemistry rooted in competitive martial arts, joking in two languages, and, most importantly, pushing back against the discrimination they face.

But when Ali’s mom finds out about the relationship, she forces Ali to end it. As Ali covertly digs into the why behind her mother’s disapproval, she uncovers secrets about her family and Chase that force her to question everything she thought she knew about life, love, and her unknowable future.

Snippets of a love story from nineteenth-century China (a retelling of the Chinese folktale The Butterfly Lovers) are interspersed with Ali’s narrative and intertwined with her fate.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads

Review

*review contains spoilers*

Short take: This review might be a little convoluted because, upon finishing Our Wayward Fate, I have concluded that I have no idea how I feel about this book enough to offer a bottom line review. I liked it, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with it.

I have been eagerly awaiting this book ever since reading American Panda earlier this year. I really liked American Panda, but some of the things I didn’t love about it carried over into Our Wayward Fate.

One of the issues I had was with Mandarin words and phrases not being translated. The dialogue and narration in this book features a lot of Mandarin, and very rarely is it translated to English. This wouldn’t be a problem if enough context were given in the rest of the passages to allude to the meanings, but that was also rare. Was I supposed to know what the words meant, or was I supposed to be excluded from it on purpose? Without being able to translate, my eyes would kind of glaze over at these parts, and that was a frequent distraction for me.

With American Panda, the plot was clear and easy to follow. With Our Wayward Fate, this was less true. We have the plot line of Ali meeting Chase, and Ali’s mom forbidding their relationship without explaining why; we have all of the secrets Ali’s mom has been hiding for years surrounding Ali’s future, including the trip to China she insists Ali takes; then we have her great uncle showing up out of the blue; and mixed in between all of this is the ancient Chinese story of The Butterfly Lovers which has been amended for the sake of this specific story. All of this was great, but it it didn’t feel tied together.

What would have made it better? I’m glad you asked. I would have loved to see something like this:

Chase turns out to be a boy who was also featured at the matchmaking park but whom Ali’s mom vehemently opposed due to his family ties, but Ali and Chase somehow meet anyway and their family’s want to keep them apart, which is why her great-uncle arrives to convince everyone that they actually are a perfect match despite their family histories.

That was pretty much what I was expecting from the moment Ali’s mom forbade her from seeing Chase and yet, Chase ended up not really having anything to do with the story except he was just there and was yet another thing Ali and her mom would fight about.

The last thing that irked me slightly about the book was some of the cursing and word choice, starting from the very first sentence. I know that this is a teen book geared towards teens but some of the language really took away from what I think could have been a really deep and beautiful story. I’m sure there were reasons why this type of language was included but it was so frequent and felt so out of place with the rest of the story.

I really wanted to love this book. I love the cover, but I am undecided about the story itself.

I am still giving it four stars on Goodreads because it tackled a lot of tough issues surrounding diversity, racism, sexuality, family dynamics, coming-of-age, stereotypes, among other themes that I think are really important, especially for readers like me who, for example, do not experience blatant racism on a daily basis. It was very eye-opening and I think this book could start up a very important conversation among readers.

Have you read American Panda or Our Wayward Fate? What did you think?

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