Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies)

Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley.

The Plot: Patty Ho is half-Taiwanese, half white. She was born in the United States, but she feels like she doesn't belong anywhere. At home, there is her ultra-strict mother and overachieving going-to-Harvard brother; there are less than a handful Asian kids at school (and certainly no half Asians), all who are "China Dolls" -- something Patty is not. When a fortune teller predicts that Patty will end up with a white guy, Patty's mother decides she can change fate by sending Patty to Math Camp at Stanford.

The Good: Patty is funny! But it's a dry sort of funny, a snarky sort of funny that is hard to explain.

While reading this, I was reminded of Gretchen Yee in Fly on the Wall. Patty is first generation; isn't living in a diverse town; and isn't in a diverse school. And as Patty finds out - these things matter.

Patty dreads Math Camp, in part because it's part of the Asian "super smart" stereotype she rebels against. And sure enough, she finds a lot of Asian students... but she also finds out that they don't fit the stereotype. Especially the very cute Stu. For the firs time, she is in a truly diverse world.

What Patty also finds is what many teens find the first time they are truly away from home -- that she has the freedom to not so much reinvent herself as to discover herself. And, that finding yourself does not mean abandoning your self or forgetting where you started.

I liked Patty's conflict -- she is good at math, but she likes writing. What should she do? I also was good at math, and while I didn't go to math camp, did go to an engineering for women week long summer program. In which I discovered that just because someone is good at something doesn't mean the person has to like it.

There is also the issue of culture and immigration. Patty looks at the "typical" lives of her friends in high school and wishes she was white; that she had the "normal" house, without the mother who speaks in an accent, and without the strange food. I can't think of the titles, now; but having read other books that deal with the first generation conflict, the tension between the culture of the "old country" and the "new", I know what Patty does not -- that her struggle is more typical than she knows. It is difficult to have a foot in both worlds.

Patty has to confront not only the bias and assumptions of her classmates; she also has to confront her own.

Finally, this book is about being OK with yourself -- being more than OK. About liking yourself, and being proud of yourself. For Patty, that includes learning that she is hapa -- half Asian, half white -- and embracing that.

Other links:

Author's MySpace page.

Cynsations interview.

Nothing But the Truth College Scholarship (deadline July 31 2006).

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