For a slightly altered YA version of Crazy Rich Asians, for a happy book where kindness takes control, for surprising pepperings of acting, art, history, and more that will keep you interested.
Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent. Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.
Admittedly better than I expected! There were conversations about art, Chinese history, belonging, racism, family, and so much more. They went a bit deeper than I expected them to, and cut to the heart of the matter without bogging down the story or losing it’s true thread. That’s a pretty impressive skill, to weave in ideas and commentary without taking over your characters. The central plot itself was also heartwarming in a lot of ways, since kindness takes precedence as the most important thing. So often, this is forgone in books for a more dramatic, cruel kind of pull. I’m not about that. I thought this was a wonderful balance.
However, it was also a little predictable and not the most original story line. Some aspects seemed to get kind of glossed over for the sake of convenience, and there were times I would pause and think to myself, “So I guess that thing she thought was a huge world-ending problem was actually completely forgettable and unimportant.” Still, a quick read that’s worth the payout in the end. I wasn’t blown away by the plot, but I wasn’t expecting to be.
A small end note is that I wish the cover was showing more of the other paintings around it! I didn’t really like the cover, and then on the intro pages to the book was a zoomed out set with paintings surrounding it. It’s way more interesting and engaging and speaks to the depth in the story. You’re not just getting some secretly-famous-or-rich-girl story, you’re getting art and intrigue and history and secrets and family. Way better showing more of them, y’all.
Also, please read Diana Ma’s notes at the end! They’re lovely and a welcome snippet of insight into the author’s side of things. Love it.