Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Off the Menu

Summary: An extraordinary debut about second-generation Asian-American women trying to live up to society’s high standards, as well as their own.

Even though it’s been ten years since their Houston high school days, co-valedictorians and best friends Whitney Lee, Hercules Huang, and Audrey Henley still delight in their once-a-month get-togethers where they talk, laugh, and confide in each other— although not about everything. Because each young woman has a deep, dark secret they think they could never share. Not even with their best friends. Then, during a girls’ weekend getaway, these three friends wind up revealing their most intimate truths—and realize that to get straight As in the real world, all you have to do is let go of the need to be perfect… -- New American Library

I know this definitely isn't the best way to pick a book to read, but I have to admit that I absolutely adored the cover of OFF THE MENU by Christine Son. I love the flowers and the heart-shaped chocolate candy -- it just made me want to read the book. Fortunately for me not only was the cover gorgeous, but the book was very good too!

While at first glance I thought I didn't have much in common with the characters in OFF THE MENU, I definitely felt that this story resonated with me. Maybe not with my current 39 year old self who is a stay-at-home mom, but somehow I found myself relating to each of these three women. No, I'm not Asian-American or in my late 20s/early 30s or even totally career oriented anymore, but I could understand the feelings of these three characters -- I always want to be perfect and never disappoint anyone. While I don't think I ever quite experienced the pressure that they felt (especially from their parents -- mine was more self-imposed), I still think Whitney's, Hercules' and Audrey's feelings are universal among today's society of women. And, I think that's exactly why so many women are going to love this book!

I was a little disheartened at the beginning of the novel that these three long-time best friends still managed to keep so many big secrets from each other. But when I thought about it, I thought it was very realistic portrayal of some friends; and I could actually relate to this part of the story too. I am not always entirely open with all of my friends. (I'm not saying that I lie because I definitely don't. It's just that I don't always share a lot of my feelings.) I'm sure a therapist would have a field day with this, but I'm guessing that it probably has something to do with my insecurities. I seriously doubt that I'm alone with these feelings. -- we women do have an image to uphold.

One thing I loved about this book was the character of Jimmy. I thought it was terrific how Ms. Son introduced him (in all his splendor) to make the women realize how special they were. While I was enjoying the book and the characters, I really began to "get into" the story when the women were taking a road trip to Austin and Jimmy came along for the ride. Jimmy could sense things about each woman -- he actually saw their auras. I think it was very important to these women, especially Whitney, that someone saw through the image that they worked so hard to present. This definitely was the turning point of the novel for me. One part that I really loved was when Jimmy said that colors of each of the women made up a part of a rainbow. I just thought that was such a beautiful idea -- that friends all bring something to the relationship to make it complete. After talking with Jimmy, all of the girls started to admit to themselves (and each other) what they wanted out of life; and they gathered the courage to start working towards their goals.

I also enjoyed how the author portrayed the complexities of being an Asian American women in today's society. Personally, I don't have any experience with this (either myself or any of my friends), but I thought the characters' feelings and behavior seemed very realistic. Ms. Son did an excellent job of showing how they struggled to be part of their parents' culture and, at the same time, be part of the American culture. It seems like an extremely difficult balancing act, and I can imagine that it's very hard for them to feel like they fit comfortably into either culture.

OFF THE MENU is Ms. Son's first novel. I think her background is fascinating, and there's no doubt that much of this novel was written using her personal experiences and feelings. This book was extremely easy to read and flowed very well. I thought she did an excellent job with developing the characters and allowing the reader to really "know"them. I think Ms. Son definitely has a bright future as a writer, and Ilook forward to her next book.

I think OFF THE MENU would make a wonderful book club selection. While I think my book club is a little older and at a different point in our lives than the three main characters, I still think we'd have a lot to talk about. I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who would feel an affinity with these women. There are many themes to discuss such as parent/child relationships, friendships, dating and romance, career choices, and finding one's self. There is a terrific interview with the author in the back of the novel as well as wonderful discussion questions.

A big thanks goes out to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this book tour! Make sure you come back tomorrow because Ms. Son will be stopping by!

Christine Son’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine (author interview)
Monday, November 3rd: Literarily (author guest post and giveaway!)
Wednesday, November 5th: Beastmomma (author interview)
Thursday, November 6th: Book Nut
Friday, November 7th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
Friday, November 7th: Ramya’s Bookshelf (author interview)
Monday, November 10th: Pop Culture Junkie
Tuesday, November 11th: 8Asians
Wednesday, November 12th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Thursday, November 13th: In The Pages
Friday, November 14th: She is Too Fond of Books
Monday, November 17th: Planet Books
Tuesday, November 18th: B & B ex Libris
Wednesday, November 19th: DISGRASIAN
Thursday, November 20th: Booking Mama
Monday, November 24th: The Literate Housewife Review
Tuesday, November 25th: Feminist Review


Anonymous said...

This one looks good to me. Like you, a great cover can really draw me in.

Suey said...

This one sounds fun. Great review!

Ti said...

Very informative review. This books sounds pretty good to me.

I understand what you said about friends and secrets too.. I don't lie either but some friends are a little deeper than others and because of that, some are better able to handle personal shares, etc.

S. Krishna said...

I really enjoyed this one as well, great review!

melanie said...

I was interested in this and thought it would be fun to read with my best friend who happens to be Korean. Now I'm definitely getting one for each of us. She always has great insight into the culture.

Serena said...

I loved this book and its on my weekly geeks gift giving guide!

I don't have that much in common with the characters either, but this was a fascinating look at how some female friendships work.

Anna said...

Great review! I also loved Jimmy!

I was part of the tour on Nov. 26. My review is here