Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
Ever is the daughter of first generation American Taiwanese parents. Their love and expectations for her are high and their respect for her dreams is low. According to them, Ever WILL attend Northwestern and become a doctor. They have given up everything specifically so that could happen. Ever has been dancing since she was four (after all, you need more on your med school apps than academics). She is a gifted dancer and choreographer and is passionate about both. She secretly applied to the dance school at NYU and got in. She can’t afford it and her parents wouldn’t allow her to go anyway but SHE GOT IN. When her parents find the acceptance letter (the parents ALWAYS find the acceptance letter), they lose it. They force her to cancel her summer plans and send her off to Taiwan to study at a cultural immersion school with 500 other Taiwanese students. Ever is pissed and devastated and so, so tired of her parents’ interference. Luckily, she immediately connects with her roommate, Sophie, who helps her to decide . . . screw it. Her parents may have forced her into this school and they may have chosen the classes she’ll take while she’s there, but they cannot control how hard she works or how late she stays out or what she wears or if she wears makeup. Ever is gonna break ALL the rules this summer. When Ever learns that veteran students have nicknamed the school “Loveboat” because of the amount of sneaking out and hooking up that goes on, she thinks she might just be in the perfect place for her summer of rule breaking.
What follows, at first, is very “Crazy Rich Asians” - young and fabulous Taiwanese youth showing Ever the city and the clubs and the drinks (which includes literal snake blood and Vodka). Sophie taking Ever out for a glamour shot photo shoot which includes nudes. Sophie and her cousin, Rick (who Ever calls Wonder Boy), taking Ever to their aunt’s mansion for the weekend. I could go on and on. Sure, Ever is hungover a lot of the time and she’s missed a lot of classes, but she is having a great time. Things start to slow down once she gets caught a time or two and the tone of the story starts to shift into a more serious one. She and Sophie’s friendship is challenged. Ever’s friendship with Wonder Boy has gotten complicated. A relationship between she and Sophie’s unrequited crush, Xavier, emerges. She finds hope in her one true love - dancing. When she finds a way to tie dancing in with her new love of her culture (fan and ribbon dancing, stick fighting, kung fu, Mandarin), it’s magic.
Ever’s character development throughout this story is a study in how to write a dynamic character. At the end of the summer, Ever is a totally different person. One who has learned to understand her parents. Oh, the power of travel and meeting new people and experiencing new cultures and seeing life through a new point of view! I don’t think I’ve read a YA book that shows the power of these experiences so clearly! Speaking of travel and culture, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the culture and destinations and art and food of Taiwan. What a joy to read! Back to dynamic characters. Wen clearly has a talent for writing them. Even her side characters were given stories fleshed out enough to show their change and development. Ever’s friends and their stories were a definite strength of the book.
As you can tell, I absolutely loved Loveboat, Taipei. The audiobook was excellent but I know I would have loved it just as much if I would’ve read the print. Highly recommended.