Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao

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

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria ChaoOur Wayward Home by Gloria Chao
Published by Simon Pulse on October 15, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
AmazonThe Book Depository

A teen outcast is simultaneously swept up in a whirlwind romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets when another Taiwanese family moves to her small, predominantly white midwestern town in this remarkable new novel from the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, which The Wall Street Journal called “weepingly funny.”

Seventeen-year-old Ali Chu knows that as the only Asian person at her school in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, she must be bland as white toast to survive. This means swapping her congee lunch for PB&Js, ignoring the clueless racism from her classmates and teachers, and keeping her mouth shut when people wrongly call her Allie instead of her actual name, Ah-lee, after the mountain in Taiwan.

Her autopilot existence is disrupted when she finds out that Chase Yu, the new kid in school, is also Taiwanese. Despite some initial resistance due to the they belong together whispers, Ali and Chase soon spark a chemistry rooted in competitive martial arts, joking in two languages, and, most importantly, pushing back against the discrimination they face.

But when Ali’s mom finds out about the relationship, she forces Ali to end it. As Ali covertly digs into the why behind her mother’s disapproval, she uncovers secrets about her family and Chase that force her to question everything she thought she knew about life, love, and her unknowable future.

Snippets of a love story from nineteenth-century China (a retelling of the Chinese folktale The Butterfly Lovers) are interspersed with Ali’s narrative and intertwined with her fate.

Finding a new author whose books you love is such a great bookish feeling. Obviously, I was thrilled to love Chao’s debut, American Panda, and eager to read more books from her. For me, though, I think it’s really the sophomore novel that cements what kind of relationship I’m going to have with that author’s books. Not that Sally Thorne couldn’t come back from whatever happened in 99 Percent Mine and write all books I love from here on out, but it definitely makes me really nervous when the sophomore novel doesn’t measure up to the debut. Our Wayward Fate sets Gloria Chao officially up as an author whose books I am obsessed with.

Once again, Gloria Chao’s novel deals primarily with themes of cultural identity and family. Don’t get me wrong; there’s totes a cute romance again, and that’s part of why I love these books for sure. However, I’d definitely class these as being about family and identity and not about romance. Usually, that might be a sign that an author’s books wouldn’t really be ideal for me, because lbr we know I am all about romance, but Chao writes voice and family and identity and everything else so well that I think I’d be okay if she didn’t put any romance in (though no need to test me on that).

When Our Wayward Fate begins, Ali Chu’s mostly given up. As the only Asian student in her school, the microaggressions have worn her down to the point where she ignores them. She does her best to blend, and she doesn’t call people out on their shit (even the pronunciation of her name, which is not said like “Allie”) because that would just leave her friendless and in trouble. I was, frankly, horrified by the racism in this book, though it is mostly microaggression stuff. It actually felt kind of dated to me, but considering that I grew up in an urban area with a large Asian population things were probably pretty different than in Ali’s small town.

At home, Ali’s pretty much doing the same thing. Her parents haven’t been communicating since her dad took this lower-paying job in Indiana. Their relationship’s clearly messed up, and that same distance has translated to their relationship with their daughter. Neither of them really talks to her anymore, except for her mother to tell her what to do and what not to do, because mama knows best. Like every single teen in existence pretty much, Ali in no way believes that her mother knows what’s best for her.

The catalyst for change in Our Wayward Fate in classic YA style is a hot male transfer student. It’s funny because I didn’t think about that until I sat down to write the review, but yup. Chase Yu makes the second Asian at the school, and, of course, everyone tells both of them all day (before they’ve met, mind you) that they would make a perfect couple. It’s racist and uncomfortable, and the last person Ali wants is a Chinese boy because 1) her mom said she could only date a Chinese boy and 2) everyone at school expects them to hit it off just because they’re both Chinese.

Problem is that Chase and Ali totally do hit it off. They do have a lot in common, such as a love of kung fu (practicing it but probably also watching the movies) and of flirting by the usage of many puns. They are freaking adorable, and I loved the tension of not wanting to be together because people do want you to be together, because it’s usually the opposite. Their nerdy banter delights me so much. I love this ship a lot, especially with the way that Chase acknowledges her superiority in martial arts without any hurt feelings.

Chase came from Flushing, and he’s not used to the constant microaggressions, so he challenges them. This in turn inspires Ali to care again. It definitely helps to have a friend left when you burn bridges with people by refusing to let them believe that the racist shit they’ve said is actually okay and nice. Even though I love seeing Ali stand up for herself and fight back and let some of that simmering inner anger out, it’s so understandable why she didn’t when she was alone. She and Chase keep getting sent to the office for calling out a teacher on a racist comment, and it’s such exhausting bullshit. This novel does a great job highlighting how difficult it must be to be the sole POC somewhere.

Our Wayward Fate is one of those books where sometimes you will absolutely want to shake the heroine and send her gifs that say “look at your life, look at your choices” because instead of communicating, she will absolutely always choose snooping. It’s so frustrating because you’re there shouting “no, seriously, just ask” or “push for an answer, don’t give up!” and she absolutely will not do that. In a lot of books, that’s a massive weakness because it doesn’t make sense, but this is one hundred percent how Ali would act, because it’s exactly what her family is like.

There’s a theme in the book all about how Chinese families do not communicate the way that white families do. By default and also if asked, Ali can count on her parents not ever confiding anything. The only way she can learn anything about them is to snoop in their business. If I had to break this book down to one key theme it would be that communication is the most important foundation to a healthy relationship. So, yes, it’s at times frustrating, but in a very good and real way, and the character arcs are fantastic.

The weaving of The Butterfly Lovers and the modern park interactions in little snippets between every couple of chapters didn’t totally work for me. For roughly half of the book, they’re confusing because it’s like “wtf is this even?”, and ultimately the connection didn’t seem all that strong. I did feel like that plot element needed a stronger tie-in, and I don’t think the chapters about the park a few months before ended up adding anything but confusion. All of that was a neat idea, but I’d prefer sticking to Ali’s perspective, even though I did like The Butterfly Lovers.

In case you missed my yelling about American Panda, listen to me now. GLORIA CHAO’S BOOKS ARE AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD READ THEM.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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