“My Summer of Love and Misfortune” by Lindsay Wong

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Iris Weijun Wang is just like any other New Jersey teen. She enjoys shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Her parents are Chinese immigrants who speak English at home and are pretty hands off when it comes to their daughter’s school work and extracurricular activities. But when they learn during Iris’s last semester of high school that she’s about to flunk out and has been rejected from every college she has applied to, Iris’s parents flip out. Her otherwise laid-back father comes up with the perfect solution to teach Iris some responsibility. Off to China she goes.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune is the debut young adult novel from Lindsay Wong, told in the humorous, clumsy voice of 17-year-old Iris, whose quirky character along with the comedy in her story are the highlights of this book.

Iris manages to drop all her essential possessions—phone, passport, wallet—into the airplane toilet.

China is the last place Iris thought she would end her senior year. Her parents never talk about their past lives in China and certainly have never threatened to send her there before. But her father explains this sudden change in plans.

 

“Too much partying, too American,” he finally says, staring at me with such heavy-hearted disappointment. “You will go to Beijing next week. You will think about your mistakes. End of discussion.”

 

Confused by this harsh sentence—to stay with an aunt, uncle, and cousin she’s never heard her parents talk of before—Iris wonders if she’s adopted and the people she has always called mom and dad are not her biological parents. Like many disgruntled children, she daydreams that she was kidnapped at birth and is really the daughter of royalty. She never understood her father’s penchant for superstition and the Chinese zodiac. Iris, born in Year of the Tiger, starts to call her father—in her mind—her Goat dad, born in Year of the Goat.

Added to Iris’s banishment from New Jersey is her best friend’s acceptance to Princeton. Samira Chadha-Fu’s parents immigrated to the US from Singapore, and they are the type to brag about their children when they succeed. And Mr. Chadhu-Fu is the town gossip, which makes Iris’s fate even more dire.

 

My mom always says that if you want everyone to know about a new mole or your latest failure, you just have to accidentally tell Mr. Chadha-Fu. Samira’s dad is a successful stockbroker with two toy poodles, yet he still manages to out-tweet and out-text all of us every day.

 

Iris manages to slip out of New Jersey for Beijing without incurring gossip. But misfortune befalls her even before the plane lands in Beijing. In a rush to leave the airplane lavatory as other passengers knock on the door to inform her that a line has formed waiting to get in, Iris manages to drop all her essential possessions—phone, passport, wallet—into the toilet. She fishes them out, but her phone is out of order when she gets to Beijing. That she meets up with her aunt, uncle, and cousin there is a minor miracle.

Apart from her casual disposition, Iris stands out among her Beijing relatives in not speaking Chinese. They find this quite baffling. Others don’t understand why she looks Chinese but cannot speak the language, and keep asking her why she only knows English.

 

I don’t know. That’s actually a good question. I never needed to learn Chinese in New Jersey. Everyone practically speaks perfect English.

There is little in the packaging to indicate that the novel is Asian in any way.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune, Lindsay Wong (Simon Pulse, June 2020)
My Summer of Love and Misfortune, Lindsay Wong (Simon Pulse, June 2020)

Iris runs into all sorts of mishaps in Beijing, and no matter how much she tries she just cannot connect with her teenage cousin, Ruby, whose passion is grooming dogs into cartoon characters or other animals that are decidedly not canine. Iris cannot return to the US until she can converse in Mandarin, per her father’s instructions. Even a private tutor seems to make little difference; Iris is more interested in dating him. The China storyline is one of the weaker parts of the book, but Iris’s humorous antics continue to entertain. One of the other poignant points of the books is that while the crazy rich relatives she lives with are fuerdai, their humble background is as much a part of their background as their seven-star hotels.

There is little from the My Summer of Love and Misfortune’s packaging, from its frothy title to sparkly cover, to indicate that the novel is Asian in any way. And Iris’s down to earth demeanor and comedic clumsiness are relatable to all. Wong’s debut is fun; along the way, readers dip into Chinese culture, especially when it comes to the zodiac characters.


Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.