LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI by ABIGAIL HING WEN
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Loveboat, Taipei is a sparkling debut novel by Abigail Hing Wen, a YA contemporary story set at a language school in Taipei, Taiwan, following the journey of our main character, Everett Wong. Ever for short. All Ever has wanted to do with her life was dance. Trained in ballet and an integral part of her high school’s flag team, Ever is the opposite of what her strict parents want her to be. They want her to be a doctor, she wants to be a dancer. They want her to go to medical school, Ever wants to attend Tisch School of the Arts. Despite her aversion to blood and general disinterest in being a doctor, Ever is prepared to do what her parents demand of her, even if it costs her her happiness.
That is, until she’s shipped off to Taiwan.
In addition to being a doctor, Ever’s parents also want her to learn Mandarin and reconnect with her roots. Ever doesnt want to go. Not at first. But when she arrives in Taipei, she discovers more than just her heritage. She discovers herself.
Now, if you don’t know me, you won’t know that the Crazy Rich Asians movie is one of my favorites. I watch it when I want to feel happy. Loveboat, Taipei was being heavily marketed as a book fans of CRA would love, and since I’m one of those fans, I decided to give it a go. The result? A mostly-positive thumbs-up. I didn’t hate Loveboat, Taipei. Far from it. It just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to for a variety of reasons, most of which being what happened with the romance, as well as a few other unbelievable storylines my brain refused to compute. .
Loveboat, Taipei is meant to be a fun novel, a frothy romp through Taiwan with plenty of teenage drama to go around. Keeping that in mind, I’m not a teenage anymore. I try to take the “drama” that happens in these sorts of books with a grain of salt, but there were some storylines included in Loveboat that I felt didn’t need to be there, including a nude photo scandal involving our main character and nightly clubbing I got rather bored with. However, I understood these events as being integral to Ever’s character growth–from timid, studious girl to a freer version of herself. It was still frustrating to read, though, and the nude photo scandal could have been handled by Wen with a bit more depth than what she gave it.
Now onto the romance…
I’ll come out and say it now: Loveboat, Taipei has a love triangle. Both legs of the triangle are perfectly fine candidates. One is Rick Woo, “wonder boy,” professional parent-pleaser and all around good guy. I liked Rick. The other is Xavier Yeh, the “bad boy” of the triangle, known for sleeping around and slacking off. Both like Ever. Ever likes the both of them, too, but she clearly likes Rick more. The thing is, Rick is her roommate, Sophie’s, cousin. Xavier is also Sophie’s boyfriend. It only gets more complicated from there.
Since I don’t see disability as a spoiler, it should be pointed out that Xavier has dyslexia. I appreciated his casual inclusion in the book, but I didn’t like how his storyline hinged on Ever’s. There’s also a cheating element to Ever’s relationship with Rick, which I didn’t like either, but then again, I’m reading this book from the eyes of a 26 year old. Teens sometimes do stupid things. Ever is certainly one of those teens.
Despite my griping, there are a lot of things about Loveboat that I enjoyed. I loved the Taipei setting, and the nuances of East Asian identity we as readers learned from this book. I loved learning about Taiwan, learning bits of Mandarin, and about the dances Ever loves so much. Again, I didn’t mind that this book was full of drama–have I mentioned I love Crazy Rich Asians?--but I just wish the serious topics were handled with more care,
I guess that’s what next year’s sequel is for.
You can find our copy of Loveboat, Taipei at the Oreana Library today!