Leung (The Wondrous Woo) presents 10 sweet, sad, sympathetic stories set in Scarborough, Ontario, for a group portrait of immigrants, misfits, adults, adolescents, and teenagers, all of whom discover suburban comfort does not ensure happiness. The first story, “Grass,” takes place in 1979, as 11-year-olds June and Josie ponder two suicides: Mr. Finley, the local softball coach, and Mrs. Da Silva, a housewife with an abusive husband. The girls cannot ask their parents for explanations, because death is one of many subjects parents prefer not to discuss with children. “Flowers” shows Mrs. Da Silva’s last day, as she listens to flowers taunt her in her native Portuguese. In “Treasure,” a woman named Marilyn who is admired by her neighbors turns out to be a thief. In “Sweets,” June’s buddy Naveen gets beaten up when he wears his sister’s heart-shaped sunglasses to school. In “Things,” comic book enthusiast Darren confronts a racist schoolteacher. “Wheels,” “Kiss,” and the title story explore June and Josie’s changing perspectives upon their first experiences of womanhood. Linked by recurring characters such as Darren’s Jamaican mother and June’s grandmother from Hong Kong, together the stories track June’s deepening understanding of the place she calls home. Crystalline prose, sharp storytelling, and pitch-perfect narration enhance Leung’s accessible and affecting depiction of how cruelty undermines and kindness fortifies people’s sense of community. (Feb.)
"Though each story in That Time I Loved You can stand alone, they are cleverly interconnected.... The effect mirrors subtly yet precisely the feeling of living in a close suburban neighborhood: that of lives stacked atop one another, entirely separate and walled off and yet closely intertwined by both proximity and culture."
"Leung, author of Toronto Book Award–finalist The Wondrous Woo (2014), walks readers through the matching split-levels of a Toronto suburb in her striking U.S. debut.... Readers peer through chain-link fences and discretely pulled curtains along with Leung's vivid, quotable charactersand are reminded that life doesn't happen between soap-opera episodes, cigarettes smoked at the kitchen sink, and trips to the mall, but during them."
"If you think Updike and Cheever have a monopoly on the familial and cultural quakings of 1970s suburbia, Carrianne Leung is about to complicate and enrich that picture. Here are expertly confected stories about what families and neighbors unleash upon one another in a milieu too raw for contentment but too beauteous to abandon."
Leung's stories lift the veiled curtain of late 1970s suburbia to reveal the sadness and isolation of its residents.
In the opening story of Leung's linked collection, 11-year-old June Lee frets over a disturbing trend: The parents in her suburban neighborhood of Toronto are committing suicide at an alarming rate. "Regardless of which group we belonged to—Chinese, white, or otherwise—by the second suicide, it felt like we were waiting for something else catastrophic to happen," recalls June. Her stories, all told in the first person, illuminate the subtle boundaries between girlhood and adolescence and serve to anchor the collection. Radiating outward from June's perspective are those of other women and children in the neighborhood. There's Marilyn, an impulsive middle-aged thief of discarded or forgotten items; Josie, June's best friend, who must work to support her family and who quietly keeps an assault to herself; Darren, a young black boy who experiences violent racism at the hands of a teacher; and June's elderly grandmother Poh Poh, who emigrated from Hong Kong and is leery of her granddaughter and her loud Canadian friends. Leung looks for ways to bridge the gaps between what characters say and what they mean, what they admit to themselves and what they won't utter aloud, ultimately painting a picture of deep social and racial divides. (When one white, wealthy neighbor observes that Toronto's poorer Italian neighborhood is "authentic," for instance, it feels a little on-the-nose.) Many of her neighborhood residents have left poverty behind in the city for a better life and a bigger lawn only to struggle with feelings of discontentment and shame about their social standing. The men and women who commit suicide suffer from isolation or mental illness, and Leung uses these tragedies to show the fragility of adulthood. Most heartbreaking, though, are the stories that address the fear and shame children internalize when they encounter racial and gendered violence. Darren is struck by a teacher in class despite repeated warnings from his mother to keep his eyes down around white people, and June's friend Nav is beaten for acting too feminine at school. "I didn't know what to do," June cries to Poh Poh, a familiar refrain throughout the collection. None of the adults in her life offer easy answers or solutions—the best they can do is provide comfort and a soft place to land until trouble moves on to the next family.
Written in the tradition of Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, Leung's debut story collection marks the career of a writer to watch.
A compelling read.
Praise for The Wondrous Woo
Leung reveals a suburb on the cusp of change, families whose names are no longer Smith and Watson, but rather Chow and Da Silva. Leung illuminates with clear unassuming prose and much compassion, a neighbourhood that is complex, disturbing, funny, sad and very human.
Eloquent and lingers in the mind.
Heady, necessary writing from an author brilliantly talented and exquisitely attuned to the everyday in all of its desperation and rare beauty.
At turns poignant, sad, haunting and funny.
That Time I Loved You made me laugh, cry, feel, and think. . . .[Leung’s] sharp writing spans racial, cultural, and class lines to find the heart and beauty of the individual lives within. I loved this book.
This is a [book] that dazzles with its subtly, that befriends its reader in the dead of night, that leaves a lasting impression and a new way of understanding people and the world.
Carrianne Leung moves beyond the genre of youth lit by honestly confronting loss, love, sex, culture, mental health and the vulnerabilities that these experiences expose.
Amazing, heart-breaking, probing, tender; apocalyptic, in the truest sense. With an activist’s compassion and a poet’s eye, Leung challenges everything we knew (or thought we knew) about the suburbs. . . . This is the best coming-of-age story I’ve read in a long time.
The Wondrous Woo is the kind of tale that can bring out the super-hero in readers too.
With compassion and masterful storytelling, Leung walks us past neat front yards to show us that life in the suburbs isn’t as tidy as it seems. That Time I Loved You is about children losing innocence and adults burying pain, and yet also a hopeful portrayal of friendship, kinship, community.