Elevate Difference's Reviews > Off the Menu

Off the Menu by Christine Son
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Jan 10, 09

Read in January, 2009

I’m always a little leery of genres like “chick lit” and “multicultural fiction,” which I see as the publishing industry’s clumsy way of categorizing literature written by women and people of color. I remember reading Amy Tan’s memoir The Opposite of Fate in which she bemoans the fact that her writing is automatically classified as “multicultural” or “ethnic” even though her experience has been that readers of all races and backgrounds identify with her stories and characters. I bring this up because I am reviewing Off the Menu as part of Christine Son's virtual book tour for this debut novel. Since the novel’s main protagonists are three Asian American women, who are dealing with life issues ranging from family and professional expectations to their identity as Asian Americans in the larger U.S. culture, my initial expectation of the book was that it would be reminiscent of Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, which also happens to be one of my favorite books. As with Tan’s novels, Off the Menu transcends race and culture—but in its own unique way.

Hercules Huang, Whitney Lee and Audrey Henley have remained friends since graduating as co-Valedictorians from a private high school in Houston, Texas. On the surface, they appear successful and accomplished, but each woman is keeping secrets from her family and her two friends about her true goals, aspirations, and heartaches. Whitney is a lawyer at a high-powered Houston law firm, who secretly performs as a singer at nightclubs. She wishes to escape the boardroom for the stage, but is afraid of disappointing her parents, who are Korean immigrants. Hercules, a well-regarded restaurateur, is haunted by a troubled relationship with her father, a Chinese immigrant who seems to constantly disapprove of her choices in life. Audrey is of Korean descent, but was adopted by Texas billionaire parents as a baby and is struggling to find her place in the world.

I was experiencing a particularly stressful week while reading this book and found myself drawn in by the emotional honesty of the protagonists while also appreciating their keen sense of humor. I think this is the key to keeping one’s sanity in this day and age. Son kept the book fresh and entertaining with lines like Whitney’s description of her parents, “standing side by side with identical boyish haircuts, gray cable-knit sweaters and dark-rimmed glasses, they looked like nerdy nesting dolls.” I also appreciated seeing Asian Americans portrayed in a different light from the “model minority” stereotype that is typically portrayed in the media. These characters have passions, contradictions, and ambivalence about the choices they have made, the “road not taken” in life.

You’ll want to check this out this book if you’re looking for a well-written, entertaining read with a dollop of reality for good measure.

Review by Gita Tewari
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