The Tiger Mom's Tale

The Tiger Mom's Tale

by Lyn Liao Butler
The Tiger Mom's Tale

The Tiger Mom's Tale

by Lyn Liao Butler


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"The Tiger Mom's Tale is a heartfelt, delightful read. Lyn Liao Butler's story of Taiwanese and American identity had me turning pages and laughing (and drooling over the delicious descriptions of food)."—Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown, winner of the 2020 National Book Award

Named one of best summer reads by Parade and PopSugar!

When an American woman inherits the wealth of her Taiwanese family, she travels to confront them about their betrayals of the past in this stunning debut by Lyn Liao Butler.

Lexa Thomas has never quite fit in. Having grown up in a family of blondes while more closely resembling Constance Wu, she's neither white enough nor Asian enough. Visiting her father in Taiwan as a child, Lexa thought she'd finally found a place where she belonged. But that was years ago, and even there, some never truly considered her to be a part of the family.

When her estranged father dies unexpectedly, leaving the fate of his Taiwanese family in Lexa's hands, she is faced with the choice to return to Taiwan and claim her place in her heritage . . . or leave her Taiwanese family to lose their home for good. Armed with the advice of two half-sisters (one American and the other Taiwanese, who can't stand each other), a mother who has reevaluated her sexuality, a man whose kisses make her walk into walls, and her self-deprecating humor, Lexa finds the courage to leave the comfort of New York City to finally confront the person who drove her away all those decades ago.

With fond memories of eating through food markets in Taiwan and forming a bond with a sister she never knew she had, Lexa unravels the truth of that last fateful summer and realizes she must stand up for herself and open her heart to forgiveness, or allow the repercussions of her family's choices to forever dictate the path of her life

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593198728
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,084,431
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Lyn Liao Butler was born in Taiwan and moved to the States when she was seven. Before becoming an author, she was a professional ballet and modern dancer, and is still a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and yoga instructor. She is an avid animal lover and fosters dogs as well as volunteers with rescues.
When she is not torturing clients or talking to imaginary characters, Lyn enjoys spending time with her FDNY husband, their son (the happiest little boy in the world), their three stubborn dachshunds, sewing for her Etsy shop, and trying crazy yoga poses on a stand-up paddleboard. So far, she has not fallen into the water yet.

Read an Excerpt


Alexa Thomas had just bitten into a sesame ball when her mother told her she was in love with a woman.

Lexa wasn’t really listening. She was absorbed in the Chinese pastry, her eyes closed and her elbows propped on the marble countertop in her sister’s kitchen. Her teeth sank into the crispy exterior coated with sesame seeds, and just like the first time she’d eaten one in Taichung when she was eight, her taste buds exploded with the sweetness of the red bean paste in the center. Back then, her delighted exclamation caused her Taiwanese father to beam a smile on her so full of warmth she could still feel it all these years later.

“Did you hear me? Are you upset?”

Lexa’s eyes opened at her mother’s question. Sunlight streamed through the window, and she squinted, trying to see her mom’s expression. It took her a moment to focus. She didn’t have many pleasant recollections of her father and was reluctant to let go of the nostalgia caused by the memory of his smile and the scent of sandalwood she associated with him.

“I’m leaving Greg,” Susan said.

Lexa froze, her teeth clamped around the chewy treat. “Hmpf?”

“There’s someone else.” Susan cleared her throat. “It’s . . . she’s a woman.”

Caught off guard, Lexa inhaled sharply and choked. Brilliant. But really, what was the proper response when your sixty-­one-­year-­old mom told you she was leaving your stepfather for a woman? She coughed and spat the sticky rice into her hand. “Who? How?”

“Phoenix. My acupuncturist. She’s half-­Asian like you,” Susan said with false cheer, as if that made everything okay.

“Cool.” Cool? Lexa’s brain had stopped working. And boy, was Maddie going to flip out when she got back to her apartment.

“I’m happy. But I feel terrible about Greg.” Susan sighed. “He’s upset.”

“You think?” Lexa’s stomach twisted. “Sorry, it’s just . . . poor Dad.” Greg had adopted her when he married her mom soon after Lexa’s first birthday.

“There’s more.” Susan took a deep breath. “I also quit my job to get my yoga teacher certification. I thought you’d understand, being a personal trainer.”

“What?” Lexa’s jaw dropped, and her hands flew up; she forgot about the morsel in her hand until it stuck to her hair. She cursed, just as her sister burst into the apartment.

“Sorry I had to leave.” Maddie was breathless as she plopped onto the stool between Lexa and their mom at the breakfast bar, her face flushed from the early June heat. She pulled at the collar of her bright pink hoodie. “What did I miss?”

“Well . . . uh . . .” Lexa glanced at their mom.

“Corey get to school okay?” Susan asked, her voice still not quite right. Maddie had run out soon after they arrived at her apartment to take her three-­year-­old to afternoon preschool.

“Yes.” Maddie stared at the side of Lexa’s head. “What’s that in your hair?”

“Um . . . sesame ball.” Lexa waved a hand in the air as Maddie’s gaze darted between Lexa and their mom. When Maddie narrowed her eyes, Lexa looked away. She concentrated instead on extricating the gelatinous mess from her long black hair, which she’d always lamented wasn’t blond like the rest of her family’s.

“Okay, what’s going on here?” Maddie asked, and poked Lexa in the side.

Lexa gave her sister a don’t-look-­at-­me face.

“Why don’t you eat something? I brought your favorite. The wrap is gluten-­free.” Susan handed Maddie a chicken Caesar wrap and then reached behind Maddie to pluck the mess out of Lexa’s hair.

“Thanks,” Maddie and Lexa both said at the same time.

“So what’s the occasion? Are you trying to bribe us or something?” Maddie gestured to the sesame balls, Lexa’s favorite, and the other goodies spread out on her counter.

Lexa averted her gaze, tracing the veins in the white marble countertop as her brain scrambled to compute that her mom was leaving Greg . . . for a woman. As their mom told Maddie the news, Lexa hunched her shoulders, braced for her drama queen sister’s reaction.

“What?” Maddie dropped the wrap, her mouth open like Lexa’s had been a while earlier.

For a few seconds no one spoke, and the only sound in Maddie’s apartment was the muffled traffic noise from Third Avenue, seventeen floors below.

Then Maddie found her voice. “So first you had a fling with Lexa’s father all those years ago, and now you’re leaving Dad for another Asian? Is it because he’s white and you’re, like, totally obsessed with anyone who’s Asian? You don’t even care if it’s a pussy or a dick.”

“Maddie!” Lexa gasped. “What’s wrong with you?” She’d known Maddie would lash out, but this was a new one.

“Don’t be crass, Madison.” Susan rubbed her temple. “It’s not about ethnicity. I would love Phoenix even if she was from Mars and had purple skin.” She put a hand on Maddie’s arm, but Maddie shook her off and moved her stool closer to Lexa’s. Lexa bumped her shoulder against Maddie’s, something she’d always done when her younger sister needed her.

“But she’s, like . . . she’s . . . a female,” Maddie sputtered.

“It’s not about gender or ethnicity. Sometimes you just connect with someone.” Susan sighed and shifted out of the beam of sunlight, and suddenly Lexa could see her face clearly. She was startled at the intensity in her mother’s eyes.

“So, what, it just happened?” Lexa was still struggling to understand. Her mom and Greg had been married for over thirty years, and before that, she’d had that fling with Lexa’s Taiwanese father. She’d never mentioned being attracted to women.

“Yes. It’s about the soul. She gets me on a level that no one ever has.” Susan looked at Lexa. “Except maybe your father, all those years ago.”

“Oh my God!” Maddie clapped a hand to her mouth. “You’ve been carrying a torch for Lexa’s father all these years? You never really loved Dad?”

“Yes, I mean, no . . . I mean, yes! I love Greg.” Lexa was surprised to see how flustered their normally unflappable mother was. “It’s just a different kind of love.”

“You really felt like that for my father?” Lexa could hear a touch of longing in her own voice and mentally shook herself. She wasn’t that naïve little girl anymore, yearning for any news about her birth father, who lived so far away in Taiwan.

“Hello?” Maddie rapped the counter with her knuckles. “We’re talking about Mom leaving Dad for a woman. Not about your father, who couldn’t care less about you.”

Lexa stood, her hands on her hips. “That’s not true.” But actually, Maddie was right.

“It’s not like you care either.” Maddie turned back to their mom. “I can’t believe you’d do that to Dad. How did you just suddenly turn gay?”

“Leave her alone.” Lexa was curious too, but she couldn’t help defending their mom. “It’s her life, and she deserves to be happy.”

Maddie turned on Lexa. “Are you saying she wasn’t happy with Dad? You would side with her. Dad isn’t your real dad, so it’s fine if Mom leaves him heartbroken and all alone.”

Lexa drew herself up to her full height of five three and glared at Maddie. She was four years older, but Maddie had two inches on her.

“There are no sides. And Greg is my real dad. He’s the one who raised me.”

“Girls, stop. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to break up our family.” Susan slumped over the forgotten feast she’d brought. “Please don’t fight about this.”

“What happens now?” Lexa couldn’t bear the defeated look on her mom’s face and went to her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“We’re putting the house on the market. I’m moving in with Phoenix, and Greg is moving to the apartment in the city.” Susan reached back and laid a hand over Lexa’s.

Maddie let out a cry and jumped off her stool. Lexa swallowed hard. This was really happening. If she was this shocked, she couldn’t imagine what the news was doing to Greg.

“I invited Phoenix to our dim sum brunch next Saturday. I want you to meet her.”

Lexa’s hand slipped off her mom’s shoulder. Meet her mom’s new lover? Already?

“No way. I’m not going.” Maddie stamped her foot like she was a child having a tantrum, rather than the thirty- fishy;one-­year-­old mother of two that she was. She glared at them and stormed out her front door, leaving Lexa and her mom to stare at each other.

A moment later, Maddie slammed back in. “No. You get out.”

Lexa picked up her purse and sidled toward the door.

“Not you,” Maddie said. “Her.”

“I have to go.” Lexa eyed the door. She could go back to the gym early. She needed to think, to process this. She hated family drama. Maybe that was why she’d never wanted kids.

“What, you have a client?” Maddie asked. “They’re more important than family?”

“They’re not more important, but they need me.”

Maddie stood in front of Lexa, blocking her way. “I need you. You’re always so busy, with your clients and your friends and dating. I’m surprised you made time for us today.”

Lexa shrugged. She did have a busy life. She’d worked hard over the years and had an impressive list of personal training clients. “Mom said it was important.”

Maddie pointed to their mom and said, “You. I want you to leave.”

“Maddie, don’t be like this.” Susan pressed a hand to her heart, and Lexa’s resolve to leave cracked. As much as Lexa wanted to get out of there, she realized she had to stay and take control. She’d always been the one to smooth things between her mom and Maddie. Lexa figured that was why their mom had told her first.

“Mom.” The look that passed between them spoke volumes.

“What?” Maddie looked back and forth between them. “What are you saying to each other? You always leave me out.”

Susan turned to Maddie. “I’m sorry.” She picked up her purse. “I love you.”

Maddie didn’t answer, and their mom left, after one last look at Lexa. When they were alone, Maddie sank onto her stool and stared at her counter. “I can’t believe she’s doing this to Dad.” Gone were the anger and bravado she’d shown just moments before.

“I know, but it’s not like she did it on purpose. Don’t be so hard on her.”

Maddie suddenly sat up straight. “Did you know? Did she tell you first?”

“Uh . . .” Lexa plucked the sesame ball off the counter to give her hands something to do. “She told me literally a minute before you came back.”

Maddie pursed her lips. “You guys always have secrets from me.”

“Maddie, we don’t . . .” Lexa stopped because she had kept a secret from Maddie—a big one. “Anyways, this is Mom. How can she be gay? Or is it bisexual?” She frowned, thinking. “And I can’t believe she quit her job to be a yoga teacher. She hates to exercise.” Too late, Lexa realized her mom hadn’t told Maddie that last part yet.

“What? She quit her job too?” Maddie’s iPhone rang, and she looked down at the display. “Oh, no. It’s the nurse from Connor’s school.”

While Maddie was on the phone, Lexa paced her sister’s two-­bedroom apartment, which was filled with real furniture from Ethan Allen, unlike Lexa’s own studio, which was furnished with castaways. How could she help Maddie accept their mom’s situation when she herself was still reeling? Get a grip, Lexa. It’s not as if someone died.

Maddie ended the call and stood to grab her keys off the counter. “I have to get Connor. He’s sick.” She pointed a finger at Lexa. “And just for the record, Mom’s making a big mistake.”

“Give her a break. I’m as upset as you are. But we need to support her and Dad.”

“No, we don’t. I’m never speaking to Mom again.”

Great. Maddie wasn’t going to make this easy for their mom. Lexa already had a dysfunctional relationship with her Taiwanese father. She wasn’t going to let her American family fall apart too. “You can’t do that.”

“Watch me.” And Maddie slammed out her front door for the second time, leaving Lexa alone with the half-­eaten sesame ball in her hand, wondering what had just happened to their family.

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