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Bitter Melon

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,056 Ratings  ·  238 Reviews
Frances, a Chinese-American student at an academically competitive school in San Francisco, has always had it drilled into her to be obedient to her mother and to be a straight-A student so that she can go to Med school. But is being a doctor what she wants? It has never even occurred to Frances to question her own feelings and desires until she accidentally winds up in sp ...more
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published December 28th 2010 by EgmontUSA
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Dec 24, 2011 Thomas rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

"That's the first time I've ever heard the idea of unconditional love outside the context of religion. In theology class, I always hear about God's love, about his loving us even though we're sinners. But the idea that real live parents could be unconditionally loving is completely foreign... How can anyone be loved not for what they do but for who they are? Isn't who you are defined by what you do?"

There are some books that really hit home. Books that you can relate to, so that when y
Apr 22, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
Although I completely devoured this book in 2 days some people would ask why I only gave it three stars. The reason being, France's relationship with Derek was unrealistic. The smart, good looking, white male would never leave his beautiful girlfriend for the plain Asian girl, nor would he have the patience to stay with her. I felt no chemistry between the two and thought of it as a stereotypical high school relationship. I also felt the ending to be bittersweet. Even though France's mom deserve ...more
Cecilia Gray
Jul 16, 2011 Cecilia Gray rated it it was ok
There's no getting around how personal my reaction to this book was going to be.

Frances is the daughter of, for lack of a better term, an Asian tiger mom, and so am I. Many reviewers have felt the mother is abusive or extreme, and I think that's a cultural judgement. To be honest, the mother wasn't that extreme for me so that doesn't color my review of the book.

Frances is under an immense amount of pressure from her sick mother to get good grades and become a doctor, which she isn't interested i
Jan 16, 2011 Laura rated it liked it
Frances' life reminded me of the many tales I've heard of my parent's generation of Jewish children growing up in places like the Lower East Side or the Bronx: their parents sacrificed and scrimped so that the next generation could do better, achieve more, and only certain schools and the highest grades, the most correct behavior was allowed. Who needs sports? Who needs dates?

That Bitter Melon is set in 1989, rather than 1939 (or earlier) is what will surprise readers. Aren't we supposed to be
Jun 24, 2011 Krystle rated it liked it
Any book that’s put out by an Asian-American, especially if it’s young adult, I’ll probably attempt to read somewhere down the read. This sort of culturally specific/finding one’s own way out of their upbringing and therefore leading to a discovery of their own voice/identity is not high up on my list of themes I love to read about. But I decided to give it a chance.

Frances was extremely irritating to me. She was selfish, wish-y wash-y, and pretty dense for a lot of the book. I was quite happy w
Jun 22, 2012 Judy rated it liked it
Every time I see a contemporary Asian-American YA novel, I feel a strong draw to read it, even though I've read some books that made me wince with its heavy-handed use of stereotypes or the sickeningly sweet after-school special treatment of racism.

After reading this book, I think I have a better understanding of why even as an Asian-Canadian, I struggle with reading these sorts of stories. Maybe it's because I was raised in a similar manner, with the drive to excel at school and to fill my lif
Steph Su
Feb 17, 2011 Steph Su rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-11, poc
You know, I’m always pretty hesitant to read these books. Stories of difficult and overbearing Asian mother-daughter relationships a la The Joy Luck Club always seem to blend together for me after a while. Happily, while the premise of BITTER MELON is not unique, it presents Frances and her mother’s story in a way that worms inside your heart and draws out your emotions.

Ms. Taylor, Frances’ speech teacher, tells her that words contain great power, and so it is with this book. We may not be able
Selena Yukino (The Lioness: hear me roar)
Rating: 1.0 stars.

Oh my god. This book is fucking loco. LOCO. The characters are creepy as fuck. The ending was okay, I get it has a 'message' behind it and all that rich shit but I still can't help but cringe away just thinking about it....Everyone in this book is manipulative, selfish, controlling, robotic, inconsiderate, rude, and absoutley horrible. I'm absoutley stunned this has good reviews...but hey I'm not judging. I'm stunned by Frances's love towards her mother...after all her mother t
Mar 21, 2014 Jacquelyn rated it really liked it
“That's the first time I've ever heard the idea of unconditional love outside the context of religion. In theology class, I always hear about God's love, about his loving us even though we're sinners. But the idea that real live parents could be unconditionally loving is completely foreign... How can anyone be loved not for what they do but for who they are? Isn't who you are defined by what you do?”

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this book. I thought I would like it but not be enthralled in the
This is a very powerful coming-of-age story where Frances/Fei Ting, the hero-protagonist-narrator, is the daughter of a narcissistic mother. The novel follows Frances through her last year of high school and decisions about university, career, etc. after she accidentally finds herself in a Speech class (making and learning about speeches) rather than the Calculus class that her mother wanted her to take.

Throughout the novel the complex relationship between NM and abused daughter is dealt with i
Jul 12, 2011 Terri rated it it was amazing
"Bitter Melon" by Cara Chow is timely. With the recent publication of the controversial New York Timer Best Seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, which "...imparts the secret behind the stereotypical Asian child's phenomenal success: the Chinese mother," the topic of the successful Asian child is much talked about.

In "Bitter Melon," Chow tells us the story from the perspective of the Asian child. Frances Ching/Fei Ting lives with her mother (her father has passed away from stom
Dec 31, 2010 Ari rated it really liked it
I'm not entirely sure why the book is set in the '80s. It makes the seem semi-autobiographical (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), although the '80s environment does make the actions of Frances' mother even more stifling. There's no easy way for Frances to get away, no Internet or cell phone to help her escape, even if only for a little while. I was skeptical of the sudden friendship with Theresa. France dismisses Theresa (rather unjustly it would seem) and then all of a sudden they become fr ...more
Jenni Frencham
Frances and her mom live in a small apartment in San Francisco's Richmond district. Frances's mom works long hours at a back-breaking job so that Frances can attend a private school and receive a top-rate education. All she asks for in exchange is that Frances do her very best in everything all the time. Frances is trying hard to fulfill her mother's dreams for her: to get high scores on the SAT, to attend UC Berkeley where she can study to become a doctor, and to embark on a successful career w ...more
Mary (BookHounds)
Every once in awhile I come across a book that really hits me emotionally and Cara Chow's Bitter Melon is one of those books. It filled me with pleasure, a bit of sadness and a some triumph. The characters just jump off the page and the dialogue just flows perfectly. This story is set in the 1980's but you would only pick up on the decade once or twice since the story is really quite contemporary. I loved how the author took on such themes as tradition and duty versus independence and individual ...more
Jessica Harrison
Feb 18, 2012 Jessica Harrison rated it really liked it
full review at Cracking the Cover
Parts of “Bitter Melon” left a bitter taste in my mouth, not because the writing was bad, but because it was so good. Cara Chow’s prose helped me invest in her characters, particularly Frances. And the way Frances’ mother treated her daughter really made me mad. It felt as if she was living her life through her child and burdening her with unrealistic expectations.

Books like “Bitter Melon” are important. They give us a glimpse at people and cultures we know nothi
Feb 12, 2011 Michelle rated it liked it
Bitter Melon is one of those books that I find incredibly difficult to review. Mainly, because despite the fact that I struggled with the story there was great power and value in Chow's message. I'll start with saying that I felt like the whole story was a bit stereotypical -- overbearing Asian mother dominates and manipulates timid daughter. This, however, doesn't take away from the thematic elements that were of greater significance.

The best part of Bitter Melon was Frances. She was so eloquen
Feb 21, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it

1. The novel "Bitter Melon" by Cara Chow is about a Asian girl named Frances who is on her senior year of high school. She is poor, and lives in a small town in San Francisco with her mom. Her mom is very strict and puts a lot of pressure on her. Also, she works very hard to educate Frances well. In respond to that, Frances has always been a respectful girl who obeys what her mom tells her to do. She studies hard to go to Berkely and become a doctor as her mom wishes
Jul 08, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it
This review original appeared on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as emotionally invested in a book as I was in Cara Chow’s Bitter Melon.

It’s a difficult story of a Chinese-American mother and daughter living in San Francisco, yet it could be about any family where the parents do not allow their children to fly free, to find a life that will give the child joy and satisfaction. It’s about caging the soul of a beautiful mind as a battle ensues to find the sweet taste
Dec 27, 2010 Dodie rated it it was amazing
Frances, now a high school senior, is expected to become a doctor and do her mother proud, avenging their abandonment by her husband many years ago. When Fei Ting (Frances' Chinese name)accidentally gets assigned to a speech class rather than calculus, she feels exhilarated and scared at the same time, and ends up staying in the class. This forces Frances to be deceptive, something she has never done before. Frances' mother is out of control and can play the martyr at the drop of a hat (or some ...more
Jun 09, 2012 Nian rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Cara Chow’s wonderful debut really made my heart ache, not just for the protagonist, but also for the mother. I loathe the mother, wondering how she could put her daughter through everything, but in the end, I still pitied her because she did give up so much, and almost lost it all. Being Asian American myself, I really resonated with the novel, the traditional values and upbringing of an Asian mother. Everything I did, my mother wanted more, constantly critiquing me and saying everything she di ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Laura rated it it was ok
I've got to admit, I didn't like this book much. I was extremely intrigued with the premise, though. The first pages were refreshing in their clear language and accurate portrayals of relationships and friendships.

And then Frances met Derek.

And everything started spiraling from there.

Derek's description of being a Greek God and his girlfriend - although her personality seems questionable - apparently has the beauty of a Muse. Although Frances is lauded by her mother and friend as being witty a
joy *the clean-reader extraordinaire*
every family is not like your family
your parents are not always right or even good
you can make your own choices, but it might be painful

a well-written story, recommended for high schoolers, multicultural studies, or just as a quick afternoon read

**the gradual, stutter-start romantic relationship
**clear-eyed descriptions of the embarrassing moments i think we all had as teenagers -- zits, periods, perspiration, social awkwardness, and occasional wardrobe malfunctions.
**vivid descriptions

Elizabeth Wang
Mar 22, 2016 Elizabeth Wang rated it it was ok
This book was unrealistic and cringy. I totally understand standing up against parents who want to control your life, but seriously?! This book went too far. A mother that beats her child with the trophy the aforementioned child won is not an Asian parent but rather a mentally ill parent. This further exacerbates the stereotype that all Asian children are socially awkward weaklings who are forced to study math and science by their psychotic parents. The mother was an overused, cliched stereotype ...more
Maddie Kemp
Jan 17, 2016 Maddie Kemp rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lara Arencibia
Feb 28, 2016 Lara Arencibia rated it really liked it
Bitter Melon, a book by Cara Chow, is a realistic fiction story. I chose to read it because the title and cover looked interesting.

This book is about a girl living in San Francisco. Her mother is abusive and she has no friends. When she ends up in Speech class instead of Calculus, she discovers that there is a lot more for her to enjoy in life. She struggles against her mother, eventually winning and going to do what she wants.

This book is realistic to the point where it feels like a real story.
Jun 02, 2015 MJ rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Melissa Menten
This book starts out slow, but really picks up as Frances (Fei Ting) deals with the clash of her desire to choose her own direction in life with the expectations of her mother. She is a high school senior who discovers she would rather take speech class than calculus, but her mother expects her to get into UC Berkeley and become a doctor who will support her mother in her old age. The setting is San Francisco and it was very interesting to learn more about Chinese-American cultural customs. I re ...more
Narrated by Nancy Wu. Here's a story for teens about a tiger mother with her claws out! Frances' single mother works all day and sacrifices so that someday Frances will get into UC Berkeley, become a doctor, and take care of Mommy. Frances is content enough with the plan until she is assigned a speech class by mistake and finds there are other options in life, thanks to her dynamic young teacher. If you've been raised by strict Asian parents you will cringe as Frances' lies and cover-ups mount, ...more
Kati Quiros Martinez
The book I read was Bitter Melon by Cara Chow. I liked the book because it was an interesting book. The main setting of the book is in California. The main characters are Fei Ting (Frances) and Theresa. The main conflict is that Frances ends up in a speech class on accident and it was too late to switch out. Frances asks Theresa for help because she actually ends up joining the speech team but her mother wants Frances to take calculus instead. After Frances mom finds out about the trophy she won ...more
M Liu
Nov 04, 2015 M Liu rated it really liked it
This book has actually caused me to emulate the expression of a shocked Kermit the Frog a number of times due to the fact that the things described in this book are actually very real, and though extreme, reflects upon my interactions with my parents and my parents with their's when they were young.

Also, the writing is great, the love arcs are realistic, not too overdone; and a compliment, not a focus of the main plotline.

Would recommend.

(also it should actually be bitter goard, especially since
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Schumpp, EII Hono...: Bitter Melon 1 1 Apr 29, 2014 08:38AM  
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Cara Chow was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the Richmond district of San Francisco.

Her inspiration for the first book, Bitter Mellon, is her own life because she attended an all-girls' Catholic high school and competed in speech competitions. She was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow in 2001.

She currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and son.
More about Cara Chow...

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“So how do you know when you're a winner? Easy. It's when good is not good enough.” 6 likes
“That's the first time I've ever heard the idea of unconditional love outside the context of religion. In theology class, I always hear about God's love, about his loving us even though we're sinners. But the idea that real live parents could be unconditionally loving is completely foreign... How can anyone be loved not for what they do but for who they are? Isn't who you are defined by what you do?” 5 likes
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