A whirlwind coming-of-age story

Loveboat, Taipei

Book title : Loveboat, Taipei
Author : Abigail Hing Wen
Publisher : Harper Collins
Publication Year : 2020
ISBN : 978-0-06-299634-3
Price : RM 49.90

Author Abigail Hing Wen.

When I first stumbled upon “Loveboat, Taipei” at a local bookstore’s best-sellers shelf, my immediate thoughts were of the country — Taiwan and how I just loved the place itself. Written by Abigail Hing Wen, I assumed that I would revisit Taiwan amidst the Covid-19 pandemic via words and imagination through it. True enough, the book vividly describes parts of Taiwan’s tourist locations and how to properly enjoy it, for a young adult wanting to break free.

The book starts with the narrative of the main character Everett Wong, who goes by the nickname of Ever, who grew up in America under a strict, conservative, Asian family rules. With her Taiwanese background but American personality, Ever disclosed how her parents had sacrificed everything — her father’s career as a doctor and her mom’s valuable jewelleries — “My parents would slit their throat for my happiness, and in return, my future is their future.”

A dancer by passion, the young Ever was forced to further her studies in medicine instead of a dancing school. Growing up Asian, I can definitely relate to her predicaments surrounding the expectations that we are required to meet — to avoid being a family disappointment. However, everything changed for her the moment her parents signed her up for Chien Tan — a summer school in Taiwan.

Initially, it sounds like punishment, especially since her parents had already dictated what activities she will attend through during her time there. Ever knows nothing about Taiwan apart from that it’s an island off the coast of China, but, as she made friends with the other American-born Chinese students, Sophie, Rick and Xavier, she could finally find herself and who she is away from the Wong’s family rules.

But first thing first, listing down all the suffocating rules to bend, Ever begins her soul-searching days by being rebellious. No drinking, no wearing promiscuous clothings, no boys, no kissing, no clubbing are among the many rules that Ever will break throughout the book.

Her new-found freedom and rebellious stage, living away from her family reminded me (I’m sure also many teenagers of the century too) of when I first tasted adulthood. Carefree and reckless, Ever and Sophie, and dozens of other students escaped Chien Tan summer school to go bar-hopping, exposing themselves to Taipei’s nightlife. They even had a snake wine.

As the two girls spent their first few weeks in Chien Tan breaking the Wong’s family rules, doing things to prove their profound freedom, Ever said, “I was drowning at home and Chien Tan was a lifeboat.”

Reaching the climax, the book took a turn from a rebellious teen book to a typical teen love story book as love found its ways among the four friends — Ever, Sophie, Rick and Xavier. Just like reading any American love story, the complicated romance swings hard on me. However, it was during this time of the book, that readers can see the changes in Ever’s behaviour and personality as she began to understand her parents.

As the story progressed, she was no longer the rebellious Ever, rather a responsible one. It was heart-warming to note that she finally accepts her Chinese heritage, which she often loathed at in the beginning. Being raised in America, she was often envious of her American best friend who had the privileged to be what she wants, and not what her parents’ want her to be.

The change was further reflected when she was called by her Chinese name ‘Ai Mei’ and accepted it, as she realises how important culture is. This taught me that despite growing up different from your cultural roots, it is essential to remember where we are from regardless, as it is a part of who we really are.

“I feel all parts of myself coming together: glad that a part of me is Chinese, a part of me American, all of me is simply me.” Here, Ever chose to embrace herself since both her roots and upbringing have coloured her journey so far.

It’s truly a coming-of-age novel and emphasised the importance of communication among family, friends and having the courage to put your trust in someone, whether it’s about telling a secret, telling the truth or just staying true to yourself and your beliefs.

At the same time, understanding her parents’ perspective did not hindered her passion for dancing, but it ignited it further. Once summer school was over, Ever adamantly chose her passion over anything else. While it got on her mother’s nerve, where she said that “dancing cannot bring food to the table.” Ever unrelentingly replied, “Then I will starve!”

As the book closes, it was revealed that her father had chosen to embrace who he was. Despite the sacrifices and struggles, he had never forgotten his true passion and what makes him happy, “Maybe none of us can hide who we are.” I found this to be another lesson from the book, that no matter how far we go, we can never forget who we are and where we belong. Passion is always important in any aspects of life, even ones that our parents made for us.

Overall, the book does not sway away from reality and it touches on the common, conservative household that Asian readers can relate to at every page. From growing up with suffocating but essential rules, to running away from it, and finally finding freedom as a young adult. Only to realise that maybe being an adult is not as easy as it seems, and going back to the rules made seems like the most sensible way to live.

In her debut novel, Abigail Hing Wen has delivered a compassionate, thought-provoking and, above all else, fun read that all fans of contemporary novels are sure to enjoy.