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Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  88 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Fiction. Asian & Asian American Studies. Semi-Finalist, Thurber Prize for American Humor. Marty Wu, compulsive reader of advice manuals, would love to come across as a poised young advertising professional. Instead she trips over her own feet and blurts out inappropriate comments. The bulk of her brain matter, she decides, consists of gerbils "spinning madly in alterna ...more
Paperback, 204 pages
Published May 6th 2016 by Shade Mountain Press
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Naz (Read Diverse Books)
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
For the in-depth review, visit my blog: Read Diverse Books

I have never read a self-help book myself, at least not all the way through, but I’ve heard that they’re a multi-billion dollar industry just in the U.S. alone. It seems Americans are willing to spend big money on self-improvement or ways to “fix” themselves. I can certainly see the appeal. Who doesn’t want to be the best version of themselves? Some people’s problems run too deep, however, and may need more than a couple of self-help book
Rebecca Foster
Marty Wu, the protagonist of Yi Shun Lai’s debut novel, is an advertising account executive for a retirees’ magazine but dreams of opening her own costume shop. The novel is her Bridget Jones-esque diary, often written in a kind of shorthand style contrasting her goals with her seemingly inevitably failures, as in: “Crap. Is 4:00 a.m. Have breakfast meeting. Must sleep.” She’s constantly quoting to herself the advice and wisdom she’s gleaned from various motivational books she picked up in hopes ...more
Erika Dreifus
I had the pleasure of meeting Yi Shun Lai a couple of years ago as she graduated from her MFA program, and I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to read an advance copy of her novel. Set in New York and Taiwan (with a significant episode unspooling in Las Vegas), NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK: THE MISADVENTURES OF MARTY WU introduces us to a young woman seeking her way, both personally and professionally, often with the "help" of advice manuals that advocate the writing-down of one's thoughts and expe ...more
Melanie Page
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu is a smarter chick-lit story that is more slice of life than looking for a happily-ever-after ending. If you’re looking for a light read about a modern woman navigating two worlds and an abusive mother, Yi Shun Lai’s book is for you. Yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron.

My full review is up at Grab the Lapels.
Jess Costa
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book has everything and most importantly it made me feel everything.
Marty is a very relatable character, she's charming, quick witted, and all together a strong woman. But a strong woman who FUCKS up. A lot. And that made her even more interesting.
I will say this though, being a victim of parental abuse, this was a bit triggering to me. I couldn't finish it in one sitting since whenever there was a critical scene and her mother was in it, I had to put the book down and take a step back. Re-
Lupe Dominguez
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ok so I have to admit for the fist 50 pages, I skimmed the book. Literally. Just ran my eyes over the words because OMG I HATED MARTY'S MOM!!! But then I was like, "No, I should really read this" and HOLY CRAP. This was probably one of the best books that show the complexities of immigrant families who keep their ties to their home countries by families while trying to raise "American" families in the US. Like, I'm American, but my heritage is Mexican and my mom (also American but Mexican herita ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: signed-copy
A book reflective of our generations struggles with employment and what to do with our lives. Marty struggles with needing a job to pay the bills, but longs to follow her heart. Marty's career problems are further complicated by her relationship with her mother. Oh, her mother. Marty is truly in need of all the self-help books she has amassed with her career, relationship, and family problems. Her trip to Taiwan ends up adding more to her full plate instead of fixing anything.
A great read with l
Sharon Mentyka
I've got a review of Lai's book up on my blog site here:
K. Turner
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I received a review copy of this book near the time of release. Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu by Yi Shun Lai, follows Marty, our female protagonist, through her jobs, relations, and career dreams. The book is written as diary entries as Marty learns from several self-help books humorously quoted as publisher, price, and location (and if the book is on sale!). The epistolary format works well, because Marty learns to open up to her journal and at the same time opens up in he ...more
Maureen O'Leary
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Not A Self Help Book does not gloss over the pain of a difficult mother/daughter relationship. Though the tone is light and often very funny, there is an undercurrent of real frustration and trauma over a lifetime dealing with a narcissistic mother. The novel follows the story of a young woman as she navigates the vagaries of new adulthood (career decisions, romance, family, identity) while straddling two almost-homelands and managing the expectations of a mother whom she cannot please. The char ...more
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It starts light and poppy, a touch of Bridget Jones, all mishap and awkwardness and wry laughter -- but Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu deftly transforms into a deep and tender meditation on the nature of family, of love, of secrets and what it means to keep or tell them. There are any number of takeaways from this sneaks-up-on-you story, the subtleties of which are, in the end, painted as delicately as the watercolors described within. The contrast of style to substance is n ...more
Elisa Doucette
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic insights into a world I don't know much about, second generation immigrant families. And a world I know a bit more about, Western-acclimated Asian cultures. The main character, a quirky fun sales rep with costume design dreams buys self-help books constantly to help...herself. Who knows if it is the lifetime of self-help realizations and study or the growing up and coming to terms with her place in the world, but Marty is a character you will both empathize with and grimace for.
Kim Lundstrom
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Marty Wu is the Jack Tripper of young women aspiring to a life in the arts, tumbling into a cascading professional/personal disaster with a vaudevillian recklessness. And yet at the same time, Marty navigates a dysfunctional relationship with her mother that would be funny if it weren’t so painful, and the pull of her dreams in the midst of complicated relationships across two cultures. Yi Shun Lai deftly weaves a tale of laughter and tears in this debut novel.
Bridget Skahill
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved meeting Marty and watching her navigate this roller-coaster portion of her life. I had so much fun, and was sad at points, but more importantly related to her so much. I've had those thoughts and conversations about how to manage my mother... Luckily I don't have as much to manage as Marty. I'll miss Marty, but am excited for what Yi Shun Lai brings next.
Tiffany Hawk
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quirky, hilarious, and continually surprising, Not a Self-Help Book takes us across the world and back on a breathless search for personal meaning. Anyone who has ever felt trapped between her dreams and family expectations will love this book.
Stewart Lee Beck
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sympathetic characters with plenty of LOL moments!

Although this is not the kind of book I would normally read, I was drawn into it based on an Amazon free sample download. I most enjoyed Ms. Lai's portrayal of her protagonist, Marty, whom we come to know via Marty's entertaining voice in her diary entries. There's much more to the story, however, in particular, the well-developed mother-daughter dynamic of the book which prompted me towards further reflection on my own mother-son relationship. P
Jamie Wallace
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with Marty on page one. She is immediately both very real and very endearing. She is delightfully imperfect, but her imperfection never feels contrived. All the pieces fit. I know people like Marty. You know people like Marty. Though she is decades younger than I am, and much of who she is has to do with the dysfunctional relationship she has with her mother (my mom and I are best friends), I found her completely relatable.

Her story unfolds as a series of diary entries, which she
Joe Ponepinto
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Not a Self-Help Book adopts an exhilarating pace from the start and never lets up. I love the style—a cross between a diary and a narrative gives the reader a chance to see Marty Wu from both inside and out. The story is both entertaining and thoughtful. The tension in Marty’s life is always high, which makes it a real page turner. The relationship between Marty and her mother is especially powerful. The mother says things like, “Get inside. You’re so ugly today I can’t stand to think the neighb ...more
Jackie Haskins
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Get swept up in the funny and fast-paced misadventures of Marty Wu. Those things you never tell anyone—yes, those horrible mistakes and yes those even more locked-away dreams—they’re beating Marty Wu up too. If you’ve kept that glazed smile pasted professionally on while looking like a stressed wildebeest in a sweaty, frazzled, death-spiral—Marty Wu feels your pain. If everything you do disappoints your mother and its opposite would too…if you keep choosing the wrong guy or have ever thrown up o ...more
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Not a Self-Help Book" begins as a lighthearted novel told through the eyes of a quirky young narrator with a flair for drama and a knack for graceless interaction. What I thought was going to be a voice-driven romp through a New York based career and its pitfalls quickly pivoted into something much deeper and memorable: an unflinching examination of family dynamics, self-perception, excavation of the past and the fluidity of mistakes. Yi Shun Lai has created a character who is hopelessly human ...more
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Marty Wu isn’t lacking for is wants; although very few of them are her own. It is within a young woman’s chaotic search for self and purpose that Yi Shun Lai crafts Marty’s unique narrative and the navigation between the desires of those who love her and her own destiny. One part joy, two parts laughter, and three parts I-can’t-believe-she-just-did-that, Lai’s dynamic narration introduces us to voices as surprising as they are satisfying. A story honest as it is heartbreakingly hilarious, reader ...more
Carrie Klassen
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was charmed by this book. Marty is so likeable. And funny. And flawed, and familiar. And her story of mothers and daughters, of cultural exploration and self-discovery, of New York City and Taiwan, of best friendship, of the places where self-improvement meet self-acceptance, of the artist's life.... it all has such depth and interest and richness, yet it's written lightly, deftly. Smartly. There's sweetness and edge, delight and despair. I will be thinking about Marty and her story for a very ...more
Jamie Canaves
A quick, entertaining read (with a bit of an emotional punch) written in diary format that made me think Bridget Jones Diary if BJD had centered more on a fractured mother daughter relationship than romance and she’d spectacularly failed at work in a manner that made her run away to another country.
Elizabeth (Literary Hoarders)
A quick read that had me coming back for more, but I have to confess that I didn't actually like the characters. Marty was frustrating and her mother was intolerable. While I appreciate coming of age stories (even those for adults), this one wasn't quite as satisfying.
Alex Clark-McGlenn
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
A quirky book that deals with how people live lives that are filled with cultural and familial expectations.
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Witty and fun.
A clear "voice" and a good read.
GSMC Book Review Podcast
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is hilarious. It's more than just funny, though, it's also poignant and thoughtful. Some of Marty's struggles will be familiar to many, but her particular cultural and family circumstances draw attention to how those struggles might be different for as a 1.5 generation Asian American woman. Marty struggles with a lot of expectations from a lot of different sources, and she has to sort through numerous layers in her life and the lives of her family, especially her mother, in order to be ...more
Ambika Sambasivan
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Not a genre I usually go for but enjoyed this book as a quick, light read. Really loved the self-help book references and Marty's need for their inane advice. Would have loved for the characters to develop more over the course of the story, which leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Too much soap opera drama.
Vanessa Hua
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Marty Wu is a charming screw-up whom you can't help rooting for, despite her many -- many! -- bad choices she makes. She's trying, though, each day, like all of us, each day, and you can't help but relate. The interaction with her mother was hilarious and rang so true, and I appreciated how skillfully Lai wove in cultural insights with a compelling plot and sharp characterization. A quick, fun read.
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Yi Shun Lai (say "yeeshun" for her first name) is the author of NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK: THE MISADVENTURES OF MARTY WU (Shade Mountain Press, May 2016).

She is a prose editor for, and co-owner of, the Tahoma Literary Review.

Her nonfiction can be found at Cutbank Online, at, at, and at

Her short fiction appears in Atticus Review. Previously: Akkadian, 94 Creati
More about Yi Shun Lai

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