Loveboat, Taipei is a charming coming of age debut YA novel by Abigail Hing Wen about learning to forge your own path regardless of parental expectations.
All her life, Ever Wong has done everything her parents have asked for. She’s a top student, obedient, and set to attend Northwestern University’s medical school program. Ever feels like she has to follow her strict parent’s perfectly formulated life plan for her because of the sacrifices they made while emigrating to the USA. Still – she dreams of more — Ever is passionate about dance and secretly desires to choreograph Broadway shows as a career.
Her parents reveal to her that they are going to send her to a an elite summer camp in Taipei, Taiwan where only the top students from abroad go to learn Chinese. She dreads this, but once she arrives in Taipei, she learns everything isn’t what it seems. In Taipei, Ever learns to let go and break every rigid rule her parents have made for her. It’s the first real time that she has been away from home for an extended amount of time, and she learns to break free and just be a teenager. She quickly finds herself in a very complicated love square land and learns about love, heartbreak and all of the complicated in between feelings.
I love that this book talks about the burden so many first generation kids feel. There is an enormous need to succeed and be the perfect child. Personal goals or feelings have to be washed away to bring the family stability and pride. I liked that Wen explored this through not only Ever, but all of her supporting cast. All the kids from the camp come from different backgrounds but their families all have very high expectations of what the meaning of success is. They all deal with the pain and frustration of not being able to fit into that mold. There is a very specific bond that they form because of it, and I really enjoyed seeing this tether throughout the novel.
While much of the narrative has a fun, melodramatic flair, there are some darker, more serious issues that Ever encounters as well. At the start of the trip, Ever takes a nude photo. In an act of revenge, this photo is distributed throughout the camp without her consent by one of her closest friends. As a reader, I wish we would have been given more time to breathe and take in this moment with Ever because it’s basically her worst nightmare come to life. I think that the pacing should have slowed down for a couple of chapters so the audience can feel the impact and gravity of the situation.
There is also an instance of domestic abuse that happens later in the book, where one of the characters gets her eye closed shut by her romantic partner. Again, I feel that because of the severity of the situation, this could have been a place where the narrative could have paused for a second.
This novel soars highest when dealing with the relationship between Ever and her father. In the last act, the two come to the realization that although their goals are different, the love they have for one another will never change.
The first in a series, Loveboat, Taipei is an enticing and splendid tale that takes the reader into the complicated world so many children of immigrants face. It’s an action packed coming of age that sets up many great threads for the series to later explore.