Review: The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam HollandThe Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on July 23, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Humor
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
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three-stars

When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart.

After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined.

Vee Crawford Wong, like many teenagers isn’t happy and doesn’t have a good conception of who he is. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is the story of his search for himself, his family’s past, and for a girlfriend. While I wasn’t totally captured by The Counterfeit Family Tree, I did like it and am impressed by Holland’s debut.

Most impressive I think is the first person male narration. Vee definitely feels like a real and flawed teen boy, with his various fantasies and grumpiness with his situation in life. Until I sat down to start writing this review, I actually had no idea the author was a woman, since she did the first initial thing to keep the book from being marketed to girls (it’s sad that this is necessary). I’m always really impressed when authors do first person narration of the opposite gender well, so major props.

Vee is half Chinese and half Texan. He feels weird-looking and like he doesn’t fit in, especially because his family unit is so separated from everything. He doesn’t know any of his grandparents or what his parents’ lives were like before they met. As he goes through the identity crisis that is being a teenager, various school assignments and his own curiosity lead him to want to know about the vast void of his family tree.

The story focuses primarily on Vee’s family. His mother is sweet and his father awkward. He, like many teens, does not appreciate them. He hates them for keeping secrets and a little bit for producing him, this odd-looking mix of a person. Most parents in YA are absent, so I loved how The Counterfeit Family Tree was essentially a journey by which he comes to understand and love his parents. That’s not something you see often in YA.

Running alongside that is the school and romance drama. Vee dreams of the cool girl, Adele, and of being on the basketball team. Instead, he goes to dances with his friend Madison’s super awkward friend, something neither of them is thrilled about and doesn’t make the team. As a sort of consolation prize, he’s made manager of the girls’ basketball team. He learns a lot about what it is he truly wants during the year, by making friends and paying attention to people aside from himself. One of my favorite things was actually the way he and a bully came to a sort of grudging respect for one another.

One thing did irk me about this book, however. Vee made some rather disgusting comments about the basketball team girls before he really knew them:

The girls who played basketball fell into two distinct categories: princess and lesbos. The princesses were thin and smooth and gorgeous, and also bitchy. They were the ones who distracted us. The lesbos made me cower; they had wide shoulders, square jaws, solid thighs, and either flat chests or huge breasts. They didn’t cut one off to shoot arrows, like the real warriors of Lesbos, but they did mush them into tight sports bras and wide-shouldered tank tops and clothes that didn’t fit quite right. They were loud and rude, more like boys, and they squatted on the bleachers and gave one another shoulder rubs before practice.

Of course, I expected that, during his work as the manager, he would come to really respect the girls on the team and see past the narrow-minded stereotypes of this scene. That didn’t really happen though. I thought it was going to with Steffie, but that turned out to be a big fat no. I am not okay with anything in that above paragraph at all. All lesbians are not the same. Holy shit.

Except for that one really frustrating thing, The Counterfeit Family Tree is a good debut novel, one that is a must read for readers looking for YA set in different cultural backgrounds. I would certainly try another book by Holland.

Favorite Quote:

“He has been to Texas and Milwaukee,” she said.

“And he still likes America?” I asked.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Jackie Chan it's who you love

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