Bitter Melon by Cara Chow, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon

4.6 19
by Cara Chow

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Frances has one job in life: to get into Berkeley and become a doctor so that her mother's ambitions will be realized. And Frances doesn't think there's anything wrong with that, until the day she accidentally steps into a speech class and begins to discover a talent her mother wouldn't approve of.

Frances turns out to be a natural at debate and


Frances has one job in life: to get into Berkeley and become a doctor so that her mother's ambitions will be realized. And Frances doesn't think there's anything wrong with that, until the day she accidentally steps into a speech class and begins to discover a talent her mother wouldn't approve of.

Frances turns out to be a natural at debate and public speaking. But to win in competition, she needs to say things she really believes—and to hide what she's doing from her mother. And once Frances steps out beyond her narrowly prescribed life, she begins to question many things about the way she is raised. Why can't she go to a dance with a boy who likes her? Why can't she get a job, or have any money of her own? And most of all, why is her mother never happy with her?

Frances knows she should be obedient, and that her mother has sacrificed everything so she can succeed. But when it's time to take the biggest step of her life, will Frances have the courage to defy her mother?

First-time novelist Cara Chow creates an unforgettable story of a young woman finding her voice against a background of strong cultural tradition and a mother whose ambition for her shows two very different sides to maternal love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Frances lives to please her mother, pushing herself for top grades so that she can get into Berkeley and become a doctor. But at the start of her senior year, she is mistakenly scheduled for speech class, where she learns she is a natural at public speaking, and she begins to question the path her mother has outlined for her. "If you eat bitterness all the time, you will get used to it. Then you will like it," Frances's mother tells her, referring to the eponymous dish, a blatant metaphor for the tight confines of their life together. Frances begins to make choices for herself, first hiding them from her mother, but ultimately confronting her. Though the viciousness her mother displays at times strains credulity (as when she beats Frances with a speech trophy, telling Frances she wants her to die), teens will be able to identify with the intense pressure Frances is under to succeed. The story follows a foreseeable course, but debut novelist Chow's descriptions, dialogue, and details of Chinese-American life in 1980s San Francisco shine, and Frances's growth is rewarding. Ages 12–up. (Dec.)
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
Frances's mother, a Chinese immigrant, works long hours to enable Frances to attend an all-girl Catholic high school. Frances knows what is expected in return: top grades, Berkeley, medical school, and then a lifetime supporting her mother. There is no time for dating, extracurricular activities, or a part-time job. Frances does not question these expectations—good Chinese daughters obey. Then a schedule mix-up sends Frances not to calculus class but to speech, and she discovers a whole new world. A gifted speaker, she gains recognition, self-confidence, and the attention of an attractive Caucasian boy. But the dark side is that Frances must conceal her participation from her mother at all costs. What should she do, develop her own talents or blindly follow her mother's wishes? How should the reader regard Frances? By most standards she is definitely abused by her mother, who maligns and mistreats her, takes her money, and confiscates her mail. It is not clear to what extent her mother's actions are acceptable in the narrow world of the San Francisco Chinese community in the 1990s. In response Frances manipulates her best friend, lies, and sneaks around. Naive and inexperienced, she makes many questionable choices. The author, herself a Chinese immigrant, may intend to shed light on the stereotype of the compliant Asian superstudent, but without more cultural context, Frances's situation seems extreme, and she is not an entirely sympathetic character. The resulting ambivalence leaves an astringent aftertaste, not unlike the bitter melon Frances so dislikes. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Cara Chow's debut novel (Egmont, 2010) is set in 1980s San Francisco where high school senior Frances struggles to please her Chinese-immigrant mother. There's plenty of tension because rigorous maternal expectations are sometimes punctuated with verbal and physical abuse. Will Frances fulfill her mother's plan by attending U.C. Berkeley and becoming a doctor, or will this top student turn to her newly discovered talent for public speaking? To avoid confrontation with her mother, Frances lies to hide her speech competition schedule, but seeks support from her Chinese-American friend, Teresa, an insightful teacher, and Derek, a boy who's a top-notch public speaking competitor. Frances's desire for self-determination grows until she must face her mother's anger to make her own way. Narrator Nancy Wu communicates the protagonist's emotional turmoil. Her skilled Chinese-accented English is authentic but easily understood. With high school dances and college application decisions, this first-person narrative has the passionate personality of a memoir. It will open frank discussion for students who seesaw between parental expectations and individual dreams. An excellent choice for middle and high school collections, and with Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin, 2011) drawing attention to parenting the Chinese way, it should also garner adult interest in public libraries.—Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT
Kirkus Reviews

Frances, Fei Ting to her China-born mother, starts her last year of high school with the pressure on—get perfect grades in hard classes, improve her SATs by at least 200 points and get accepted to Berkeley, where she must study medicine to become wealthy enough to support her bitter, abusive mother. She's inadvertently enrolled in a speech class with a gifted teacher who gently guides her to take control of her own life. Frances begins lying to her mother about small steps she falteringly takes toward independence. A minor romance with a hunky student from another school, Derek, leads to further deceit, but he provides her with a bit of emotional support, something she's never received at home. Her maturing understanding of the poisonous relationship she has with her mother is nicely portrayed in the text of speeches she gives at competitions. While the first-person narration remains narrowly self-focused, with other, rather stereotypical characters only broadly sketched, it does illuminate the demanding expectations of "stage parents" and the frustrations of their driven offspring.(Fiction. 11 & up)

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
HL730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Cara Chow was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the Richmond district of San Francisco, where Bitter Melon is set. She attended an all girls' Catholic high school, competed in speech, and had an encouraging speech coach, which served in part as the inspiration for her novel. She was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow in 2001. In addition to writing, Cara also teaches Pilates. She currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and son. Bitter Melon is her first novel.

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Bitter Melon 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
As I turned the last page of BITTER MELON, I still couldn't decide if I should celebrate for Frances or feel sorry for her mother.... And thus is the crux of the story behind BITTER MELON. We meet Frances, a senior at a private girl's school with the goal to gain entrance to Berkeley. As with most Asian American families in the San Francisco, California, area, Berkeley is the holy grail of colleges. Only the most worthy will gain entrance. And Frances has been groomed from an early age by her mother to excel and want nothing else but Berkeley - and ultimately a degree in medicine. A scheduling snafu at school lands Frances in speech class instead of calculus. She tells herself she will fix her schedule before the deadline, but before she knows it, the deadline has passed and she finds she not only excels in class, but she likes it. And her teacher, Ms. Taylor, inspires her and is nothing like any other teacher she's ever had. Of course, speech does not fit in Frances' mother's plans. But with the coaxing of Ms. Taylor and the guidance counselor from school, her mother comes around to the idea of speech being an "extra-curricular" on Frances' college applications. But as with everything else, Frances has to come in first or it's not worth her time. BITTER MELON encompasses Frances' senior year. The reader gets to know the hardships that Frances has to endure at the hands of her mother (sometimes literally.) Frances isn't allowed any after school activities and boys are a no no. She meets Derek at an SAT prep class that her mother constantly bemoans the cost of, even though Frances did not ask to attend. As Derek shows interest in Frances, her mother becomes more and more hostile in her actions and words. I hate to think that Frances' life as portrayed in BITTER MELON is a common occurrence. The expectations placed on Frances were unreal and at times cruel. Frances did the only thing such confinement would be expected to lead to - she rebels. Though her rebellion is not outright, the subtle tugging on her strings is enough to make France realize that she wanted nothing more than her own dreams. Nothing she would ever accomplish would satisfy her mother, and gaining her confidence as the year passes increases her need to be free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because I was bored during my teacher's move to another classroom and started reading. It was amazing and I couldn't put it down! All the other students were cleaning their butts off and moving a bunch of heavy stuff while I just sat on a dolly and read half of the book. Others were yelling at me to stop being a bump on a log and to actually help, but the book was so good I just ignored them. Definitely a must read, buy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didnt read this on my nook but there really isnt a difference. Anyways it starts out kinda slow but after chapter 10 11 and 12 its an awesome book for a 12 or 13 year old! It is worth the money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I freakin loveeeee this book! THIS IS THE BEST BOOOKK EVERRRR!!!! Its also appropariate for almost all age groups amd its amazing!!! Cant wait till she writes her next book whatever that may be!!! ~bitter melon~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I looked at this book in my library(not on the nook),and read the back and itleft me hungry for more. At the end of each chapter it leaves you hanging. Such a great read.something you'll never put down until you finsh it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've ever read. I can definitely relate to it and it's very relate-able in most aspects. Whether for a teen or an adult, this book is an easy and quick read. I couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It is such a good book with lots of twists and turns! I think everyone should read this amazing book! I love it!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i read this book i didnt finish so,i kept looking for this book every where and i jxt finally found it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never read anything more touching.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookboyAY More than 1 year ago
Bitter melon is one of the most greatest books I have ever read. Bitter Melon is about a high school senior, Frances, who tries to live up to her mother's expectations and has one goal in life, to get into UC Berkeley and to become a doctor. Her mother wants her to take calculus in high school but due to a scheduling mistake, she ends up in a speech class instead. She tries to remind herself to change it before the deadline but it was too late. Even though she didn't apply for the speech class in the first place, she's one of the very best. After days in the class, she starts to think about the way she was raised and why she does all that hard work for her mom. Also she wonders if she's living the life her mom wanted or the life that's proper for herself. This book is one of the only books I can connect to. Her mother is one of the most cruel hearted people as she beat her daughter with her speech trophy that she doesn't appreciate of and closed and stole her money in Frances's bank account. I strongly am proud of Frances standing up to her mother about the situations and can serve as a powerful role model. I highly recommend this book however, this does have some moderate adult content
AngieRose24 More than 1 year ago
A girl named Frances got her schedule mixed up.She was supposed to take calculus but instead she took speech.Frances teacher Ms.Taylor told her to compete in competitions because her speech was really good.Frances's mom doesn't know about the first competition that Frances won 3rd in.She asked her friend Theresa to keep the trophy at her house.Theresa's mom found it and she swore not to tell.Frances's mom found out and beat her with the trophy.Frances went to another competition with her mom and won 1st place.Frances wants to go to Berkly college but her teacher Ms.Taylor wants her to go to scripps.she did not get into Berkly.Her mother knew that Frances got into scripps but through away the scholarships and acceptance package.Frances found it and sent her applications in to scripps.She bought her own plane ticket and took money for college.When she woke up all her stuff was gone her plane ticket and money.Frances's mom took the money that was in frances's account and put it in her account.Frances emmbarresed her mom and told every one the truth about her.She got her money back and went to scripps. I think they could have put more at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. It is the best thing that I read last school year, I can't wait until I get to hold my own copy. I'll yell.... "THIS IS MY COPY! Not that any of you know what I'm talking about." Yeah, that will be the second best day of my life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It ikind if kind of sad at parts and other than that it is onof my favorite book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, worth the money!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am still reading it cause i just started but it sounds good and i herd of it befor because it is on reading counts