The message behind novelist Keltner’s first nonfiction book is clear: she wasn’t given enough love as a child and she’s determined not to repeat that same mistake with her daughter, Lucy. As a Chinese-American raised by a “Tiger Mother,” she has ample material to demonstrate her chilly upbringing, and offers plenty of wrenching anecdotes about, and pointed barbs towards, her mother. However, she answers the uproar over Amy Chua’s 2011 Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother with more of a whine, repeatedly hashing out her mommy issues with dramatic cries of anger mixed with half-hearted attempts at maternal sympathy now that she’s a mother herself. There is a tendency towards clichéd, cutesy language, and misplaced humor that undermines the entire project; Keltner frequently resorts to short zingers or pop-culture references immediately following a raw emotional description. For example, after recounting her mother’s response to being confronted about spanking her children, Keltner (The Dim Sum of All Things) employs an unfortunate use of one-liners like “Um, yeah,” “What now, genius?,” and “So sue me.” Keltner’s constant plea for an emotional awakening from her fellow tiger babies is perhaps too well-realized; ironically, in this well-intentioned but scattered work, the heart of the issue is blotted out by over-emotionalism. Agent: Agnes Birnbaum. (Apr.)
“Full of feisty humor. . . . Smart and sassy.”
“A sort of Asian American Sex in the City...like meeting someone who voices thoughts or experiences that you presumed were wholly yours...cynically humorous and genuinely touching...Keltner’s wry sens of humor leaps off every page.”
It’s awesome to find such deep truth that makes you laugh this hard.
“An inspiring take on mothering and daughtering. The book is smart, creative, and thought-provoking.”
Novelist Keltner (Buddha Baby, 2005, etc.) examines her struggle to define her own identity as a Chinese-American. Shaping her memoir as a rebuttal to Yale law professor Amy Chua's controversial and best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011), Keltner writes about her experiences being raised by a vintage Tiger Mother and her rejection of that model. Only as she reached adulthood did she realize the extent of the prejudice faced by Chinese immigrants and begin to appreciate her family. The author describes how her own mother referred to her as lazy despite the fact that by age 38, she had graduated from the University of California with a double major and published three novels while putting her husband through graduate school and then raising a daughter. Her parents immigrated to America after World War II, and they were intent on working hard to make a success of their new lives, while still holding on to Chinese traditions. Keltner wanted nothing more than to identify with her American schoolmates. In college, she studied English literature and met her husband in a Chaucer class. Even though he was white and only a schoolteacher, Keltner's parents accepted him into the family and adored their granddaughter. Eventually, she and her husband moved from San Francisco to the less-stressful environment of Nevada City, away from the web of family obligations. The author writes with compassion, humor, love and anger about her mother's combination of tough love and high expectations. "[N]ot every Chinese parent rules the home with an iron fist of fury," she writes. Anything but a Tiger Mother herself, she lavishes love and attention on her daughter. A quirky reflection on the modern immigrant experience and hyphenated ethnicity in America.