Friday, April 29, 2016


Yi Shun Lai
Shade Mountain Press

Ms. Hen does not usually read self-help books, but this is not that kind of book.  The character in this novel, Marty Wu, loves to read self-help books in order to improve her life. She is searching for something to change, to help make her outlook better, and to help her deal with her mother and her problems.

This book is different from other novels Ms. Hen has read. For one thing, the protagonist is very young. Ms. Hen doesn’t have a problem being around young people, and even reading novels about them, but this book is about a young person in today’s immediate society. Ms. Hen found this novel refreshing because she has never read a novel about a young person that could be one that she might see standing in line at a coffee shop, staring at her phone, with headphones on, worried about her future, and who could shortly make a disaster of her life.

Another aspect of this novel, which is new to Ms. Hen is the subject matter: it is about a young woman with a “tiger mother,” a term used to describe Asian parents that are overbearing and demanding. Ms. Hen’s parents were never anything like Marty Wu’s mother. Ms. Hen knows that parents like this exist, because she has heard stories. Marty’s mother is a force of nature, and nothing Marty does can please her. Whatever Marty says or does her mother throws a negative retort back at her daughter.

This novel is about a young woman trying to find herself, and what she wants from her life. Marty Wu works at a magazine in the sales department, and she acquired the job from her boyfriend, the boss, who soon became her ex-boyfriend. Marty is a mess, she wants things that she doesn’t have; she flubs a sales conference in a dramatic way, and gets fired. She dreams of opening a costume shop, but her dream seems to slip father and farther away when she travels to Taiwan with her mother.

The drama gets deeper and deeper in Taiwan. Her mother insinuates to the relatives what Marty did to get fired from her job. Marty tried to find peace in the house where she lived when she was young. The description of the family house is beautiful; Ms. Hen wished she could go there and relax. She especially liked the way the courtyard is described while Marty is painting with her aunt, “…my aunt’s one rooster, standing head and part of his wing above his harem of hens.” Ms. Hen also loves the Taiwan in the novel; it is a place where Marty can become the person she wants to be, by being the person she always has been.

This novel is about a young person living in a difficult world, and trying to find her way amidst the turmoil in her life. Reading the novel is like listening to a person speak really fast, trying to figure out life. The diary style of writing works well for the immediacy and energy of the novel. Ms. Hen got to know Marty’s voice and her problems, and how she tried to solve them. NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK is a fast-paced, rollicking ride through someone’s troubled life that is not yours, which might make you appreciate your own problems. Ms. Hen enjoyed the novel because it is a different perspective for her, and she likes seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

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