I figured I would love Loveboat, Taipei based on its comparison to Crazy, Rich Asians. Not to mention my current mood for some YA contemporary. But what I didn’t realize is how much I would love Loveboat, Taipei. Wen manages to balance this romantic thrum with important discussions of tropes and beauty standards.
When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.
Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Loveboat, Taipei strikes the perfect balance between introspective, thoughtful, and fun. Because of the sacrifices her parents have made for future, Ever is stuck between their images of her future and her own heart. With dance in her blood and her inability to see blood, Ever has to figure out how she can fight for her future and her family. Loveboat, Taipei isn’t only about Ever’s future, it’s also a story full of romance, stolen nights, and characters who tackle tropes.
Firmly rooted in Ever’s identity as the child of her immigrant parents, Ever struggles with the weight of their dreams. The guilt from their expectations on her shoulders. The way the sacrifices of our parents pull us towards a future without the essence of ourselves. Not only does Ever struggle with family expectations, but Wen portrays a variety of characters struggling with this very issue. With our family’s expectations for our romantic future, for the dreams, for the ways we disappoint them.
I think what I loved about Loveboat, Taipei is that I felt such a kinship to Ever. Even though our family backgrounds aren’t the same, I felt that chord resound within me as Ever talks about how even among other Chinese Americans, she doesn’t feel Chinese American enough. How she gets called a Twinkie. How she feels like she doesn’t really ever truly measure up wherever she goes. Isn’t that a mood?
Through Ever’s journey we are able to look at the Asian American identity. Not only the ways it is hard to balance our identities – the ways they merge, the ways they conflict – and the stereotypes. The tropes that haunt us. Something Ever also struggles with is her relationship to her appearance. How at home, she felt like her appearance only reminds her of how much she stands out. Of her Asian-ess. How in Taiwan, her relationship to her looks change and how the compliments make her feel. There’s even more to unpack with Ever, her relationship to her identity and how she feels in Loveboat, Taipei. But just know that it resonated with me.
But what Wen does that makes me love Loveboat, Taipei even more is give the side characters life. We can see the same themes that Ever is struggling with in their own lives: family expectations and our dreams. They’re all rebelling, confronting the ways their family puts them into boxes, piles pressure upon their shoulders. Traditional values, versus what our families have given up, and their hopes.
And don’t even get me started on the story. I couldn’t stop myself from reading. And I am 100% serious. The story wraps you up whether you are in the mood for the ways we cannot carry the people we love around all by ourselves or nights dancing in clubs. There’s something for everyone. A story about love, not only with our family, but romantic love which can take from us without knowing. Struggling to define ourselves in opposition to the rules of our family, but not quite landing on a true version of ourselves that way either.
Loveboat, Taipei is about so many things. A summer of romance. Choices made at the crossroads with our family hanging in the balance. Whether we lay our future at the feet of our family’s sacrifice. It’s about the courage to fight for our dreams. To acknowledge our past and challenge our future.