Crazy Rich Asians meets Love & Gelato in this hilarious, quirky novel about a Chinese-American teen who is thrust into the decadent world of Beijing high society when she is sent away to spend the summer in China.
Iris Wang is having a bit of a rough start to her summer: Her boyfriend cheated on her, she didn’t get into any colleges, and she has no idea who she is or what she wants to do with her life. She’s always felt torn about being Chinese-American, feeling neither Chinese nor American enough to claim either identity. She’s just a sad pizza combo from Domino’s, as far as she’s concerned.
In an attempt to snap her out of her funk, Iris’s parents send her away to visit family in Beijing, with the hopes that Iris would “reconnect with her culture” and “find herself.” Iris resents the condescension, but even she admits that this might be a good opportunity to hit the reset button on the apocalyptic disaster that has become her life.
With this trip, Iris expects to eat a few dumplings, meet some family, and visit a tourist hotspot or two. Instead, she gets swept up in the ridiculous, opulent world of Beijing’s wealthy elite, leading her to unexpected and extraordinary discoveries about her family, her future, and herself.
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Chapter 1: Flower-Heart 1 Flower-Heart
I, Iris Wang, was born to be unlucky.
This is because I was born in the Year of the Tiger, and everyone in our Chinese family knows that girls born in Tiger Year are bad luck.
A flower-hearted Tiger girl, such as yours truly, means that I’m destined to pick loser boys and never listen to my parents. A flower-heart is someone who shows up hungover to her SATs and half-asses her college admission essays. She’s also addicted to Starbucks lattes, expensive makeup, and super-fun parties.
But a Tiger son born into the family is supposed to make a lot of money and bring honor to his family name. Total sexist bullshit, am I right? Maybe that superstition existed in China in the time of Confucius, but not in twenty-first-century America, where Siri and iPhones practically run our lives.
Can I tell you an embarrassing and hideous secret?
When I was born, I was covered with thick, abundant hair all over my entire body, like I was an actual tiger cub. According to my parents, I even had coarse hairs growing on my chin, forehead, and cheeks.
My mom likes to joke that I looked exactly like a hair ball spat out by a designer cat.
My dad says that two weeks before I was born, he dreamed that my mom had given birth to a tiger cub, but he’s deeply superstitious. He’s the kind of guy who checks with a feng shui master before buying a painting for the house or making a new friend. My dad was born in the Year of the Goat, so he believes that anyone who isn’t a farm animal, like his Tiger daughter—i.e., me—brings him bad luck. Before he could propose to my mom, who is a Zodiac Dog, he consulted the Chinese almanac. Then he hired a Chinese monk to work out the math and interview his future bride.
When my mom told him she was going to give birth to a Tiger, he was extremely worried. “A Dog and Goat for parents are no match for a Tiger!” he exclaimed.
When he found out that his tiger cub was going to be a girl, I think he actually cried from anxiety.
Anyway, I was lucky that a lot of my facial hair fell off by kindergarten. But it doesn’t explain the gross, extremely long mustachelike hairs that sometimes appear when I’m super stressed. These hairs sprout above my upper lip and even grow out of my ears. I swear, those hairs are like, my whiskers. Thank god for the invention of hair wax and affordable laser treatment.
Without deluxe Nair Wax Ready-Strips, I don’t think I could ever be seen in public during times of great personal duress.
That, and I have to blame my bad luck on my sometimes too-loving, overprotective parents. As soon as I was born, they took me to a famous fortune-teller who was visiting from China to ask her how to fix my life trajectory.
It all went wrong from the very beginning.
You see, the fortune-teller, Madame Xing, found a funny-shaped mole under my right eye and said it looked like a teardrop. Like I was born to be permanently crying.
“This flower-heart is no good,” she announced to my parents after a quick examination. My mom and dad were probably horrified and praying that they could send me back to the hospital and switch me for a Tiger boy.
It also didn’t help that I was one of those babies who was always crying and puking everywhere. My mom said that I just barfed on Madame Xing’s mink fur and she got flustered and started cussing nonstop. My dad swears that this was bad luck, as it offended a powerful fortune-teller, who must have put a double curse on me.
After our first and only fortune-telling session, Madame Xing cryptically said, “Keep both eyes on your Tiger daughter. If you take one eye off, she will bring shame on your family with her weak flower-heart.”
Whatever she said was true. Since I was born, I guess I was destined to be a flower-heart. I have a weakness for terrible choices and terrible boys.
This brings me to my current situation.