Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.
Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.
Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.
· One of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016
· A Fall 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
· A Publishers Lunch Fall 16 Buzz Book
· A The Millions Most Anticipated Book
· One of Library Journal’s “Five Big Debuts” for Fall 16 -- HMH
As many of you already know, I attended SIBA last month. One of the most talked about books was THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD by Jade Chang. It was described to me as a family road trip starring a Chinese family who is facing hard times and wants to recover their rightful land back in China. What???? Now, that sounded like an original premise!
I came home from SIBA to discover that THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is getting even more buzz. It's getting terrific reviews and it's one of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016 along with receiving a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can check out the book description above to see more accolades!
So it was with much anticipation that I picked up THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD last week. And I have to say, I was not disappointed. This book lived up to its crazy description and I enjoyed it for so many reasons. Quite honestly, I am shocked that this is Ms. Chang's debut novel. It is so smart and witty and even kind of/sort of heartwarming!
THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD tells the story of The Wangs. Charles Wang was living the American dream...until he wasn't. He immigrated from China to establish a successful cosmetic company and he made a boatload of money. When the financial crisis leaves him with next to nothing, Charles takes his maid's car (he doesn't even have a car!) and sets out with his wife and two children to drive across the United States to his other daughter's house in the Catskills. He decides that his family's land in China is still rightly his and wants to go back to China to claim it!
That's kind of a very high level description of this book. Truly, there's so much more to this story. Charles is definitely a brash man who isn't afraid of going after what he wants, but the rest of his family are also unique characters in their own right. There's Barbra (she named herself after Streisand!), his second wife; Andrew, his college age son who wants to be a stand-up comic; Grace his high school daughter who is a successful fashion blogger; and Saina, his artist daughter who has left the New York art world in the wake of embarrassment.
While I most definitely enjoyed THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD, I am finding it difficult to clearly articulate the essence of this novel. It literary is a crazy ride that takes the Wangs from Los Angeles, to Arizona, to New Orleans, to Alabama to Saina's home in the Catskills. There are hilarious adventures in each city that give the readers some insight into the characters. For example, Andrew is an aspiring comedian who wants to use each stop on the road trip as a way to practice his stand-up. The novel includes his hit and miss routines and how Andrew dealt with them, but it also included Andrew's relationship with an older woman and the fallout!
The chapters that detailed the family's road trip were juxtaposed with Saina's life in rural New York. The reader learns her background story about her past relationship as well as her shameful exit from the New York City art world. In addition, there is a bit of a love triangle involving Saina. She is torn between feelings for her past (untrustworthy) boyfriend and her new (very sweet) boyfriend. It's an interesting side story that just added to my enjoyment of the novel and this family's trials and tribulations.
However, what I enjoyed the most about THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD was how smart this book was. I loved how the author used Andrew's comic routine to poke fun (or highlight!) some terrific observations about life and especially being an immigrant in this country. In addition, I loved how the author was able to include so much humor into the story, and yet still made readers think. The characters were insane and not always likable, but (and this is a big but) I thought one of the book's messages was the importance of family. Even though this family had lost every material thing in their lives, they still had each other... for better or worse. I think it's safe to say that I laughed a lot at these zany characters, but I also found myself rooting for them!
I do think THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten interesting questions. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include wealth, the American dream, immigration, racism, art, love, gender, sibling relationships, and family dynamics.
Overall, I thought THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD is a very special book... and truly unlike anything I've ever read. Highly recommended!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD to share with one lucky reader courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To enter, just fill out the form below by October 26th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!
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