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Sour Heart

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  5,459 ratings  ·  719 reviews
A fresh new voice emerges with the arrival of Sour Heart, establishing Jenny Zhang as a frank and subversive interpreter of the immigrant experience in America. In this debut collection, she conjures the disturbing and often hilarious experience of adolescence through the eyes of Chinese American girls growing up in New York City. Her stories cut across generations and con ...more
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Lenny
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  5,459 ratings  ·  719 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
It didn’t take but a second to feel the dynamics of just how ‘sour’ the stories were going to be in “Sour Heart”....
The tone of these stories are told with so much sarcasm- that I found it hard to tap into my genuine compassionate emotions. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling half the time.
The writing gets right up in your face -cockroaches in the bedsheets - depressing and disturbing details for any child to grow up with - in any country.
There was definitely a long arms distance from telling any o
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
3.5 stars. Sour Heart is a hard one to rate. Lots I liked and lots I disliked about this collection of linked short stories. Each story is told from the point of view of a young girl who's family has immigrated from China to the United States, taking place primarily during the 1990s. The stories are linked in that some of the girls have run into each other somehow or other through school or family, and the first and last stories deal with different points in time in the life of the same girl and ...more
An evocative, sometimes twisted, yet all together moving short story collection about Asian immigrants living in New York. Sour Heart has a not super high average rating on Goodreads, and I wonder what that average rating would look like across my fellow Asians, because as a son of Vietnamese immigrants, I felt so seen at times while reading this, even though Jenny Zhang's characters embody the Chinese American experience and not the Vietnamese American one. I give huge props to Zhang for crafti ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, read-in-2017
DNF at ~25%

I want to start off by saying that I'm still glad this book is out there in the universe and it's generating different opinions and different discussion topics. However, I just cannot bring myself to read any more than I already have. I am also going to preface this review by saying that I am Chinese-American, born to and raised by immigrant parents in New York City. So, I'd like to think that I have good authority to share my opinion on the topics at hand.

In short: this book is grap
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
An intense collection of stories, each one told from the perspective of a young girl living in NYC in the 1990s with parents who had immigrated from Shanghai.  The stories demonstrate the manifestations and aftermath of the trauma experienced by the parents in Mao era China and the varying coping mechanisms they utilize.  Some parents drink excessively, others work such long hours such that they almost never see their children, while others cannot get enough of their children and are by their si ...more
May 22, 2018 marked it as will-probably-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Life is too short to finish a book I am so very much not enjoying. I find the stories to be mean-spirited, one-note, and unpleasant in an unkind way. I liked the breathlessness of the prose and the run-on sentences but could not get on-board with the plot or the characters.
Vicky "phenkos"
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This collection of short stories is organised around an extremely interesting and original idea: each story is narrated by a child that is connected to the children (and adults) in the other stories through their families having shared a bedroom in the first difficult months after moving from China to the US. Sharing a mattress with one's parents, shared sleeping arrangements with other families: this is the universal immigrant experience, it seems. There are other common elements that run throu ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
When I saw this book was included in the LENNY imprint, associated with Lena Dunham, it made perfect sense to me. If you think of the criticisms of Lena's memoir particularly in how she talks openly about sexual exploration and her sister... if those elements bothered you, these are not the stories for you. Jenny Zhang writes about immigrants struggling to survive in New York, yes, but it's almost always from the perspective of the children. The way she writes about the violence of children made ...more
This book is such a tricky one to rate. It could have easily ranged between a 2 and a 5 star rating. Though there’s a lot I enjoyed in this collection, the brashness the raw unfiltered delivery of her words but some of it felt overtly outrageous.

A large portion of the book took me to some uncomfortable places not that I minded completely but they felt deliberately vulgar to add a certain shock value, to get the readers attention, a way to keep us readers feeling uneasy but also demanding our fu
“We Love You Crispina” (= first 13%): I enjoyed this story about the string of awful hovels a family of Chinese immigrants is forced to move between in early 1990s New York City. You’d think it would be unbearably sad reading about cockroaches and shared mattresses and a father’s mistress, but Zhang’s deadpan litanies are actually very funny: “After Woodside we moved to another floor, this time in my mom’s cousin’s friend’s sister’s apartment in Ocean Hill that would have been perfect except for ...more
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
One story called The Evolution of My Brother made me cry - I've never read anything so perfectly describing what it's like to grow up with a sibling and then leave home and lose the closeness of that relationship. ...more
Steven Lin
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Zhang captures the confusion and angst of second generation Chinese Americans seemingly doomed to an unrepayable debt to parents who, in numerous instances, lived through/escaped unspeakable trauma during the Cultural Revolution (losing/leaving behind innumerable family members in the process) and worked/sacrificed endlessly upon arrival in America only to see their children slowly abandon and even become embarrassed by their heritage, their language, and their customs. I am impressed by the bol ...more
Mason Neil
Aug 09, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: I didn't finish this book. I decided to give Leny/Lena Dunham a second chance and began the book with positive expectations, but with a first story that vividly depicts two girls forcing a boy to rape another 4th grade girl after tying her to their bed (with no sense of remorse, just "we're young children exploring our sexuality!"), I wasn't exactly thrilled. Every story I read from the collection wandered without direction and seemed to pick up a new thread on every other page ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I hated this so much that I'm raging against it. Yet another book that uses poverty porn and then taboo sexuality in the place of good writing. I am ANGRY at the fact that I read so much of this.
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
'After dinner, everyone talked at each other and over each as if there were not enough hours left in the day to get everything out and so it all had to happen at the same time - the listening and the expressing and the laughing could not happen one after the other but instead had to coalesce on top of each other into a massive cloud of noise. My silence was conspicuous, it signaled something, and everyone wanted to dissect it and make an emergency out of it. I was quiet not because I didn't h
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Before I really start this review, I want to get this out of the way first: this book left me frustrated and disappointed.

After reading the first short story, which I enjoyed, I was looking forward to reading the rest of the stories in this book. It quickly became apparent though why We Love Crispina was the first story: it was the strongest and the editor knew that it would be lost if it was placed anywhere else in this book. From there, the language became crude and sexual. This wasn't somethi
Emily B
May 11, 2019 rated it liked it
These stories were well written. A few times I read a sentence and it beautifully described something I think or feel but hadn’t realised until reading it.

However I felt that some of the stories sort of run into each other and it was hard to truly distinguish between them.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
DNF ~halfway through

this book was tough for me. I'm all for more representation of complex narratives about asian families, but I think there's a difference between writing characters that are interesting/flawed/complicated/dealing with trauma and just portraying all chinese immigrant parents as erratic, cruel, and violent towards their children. the author seemed to be exploiting themes of poverty and abuse to try to make her stories seem edgy and shocking. I think this is her attempt to debunk
Luke Reynolds
Actual rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A frank, sometimes violent, but always engaging collection of short stories, Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart shows how immigrant life in 1990's New York impacted growing up, feeling at home, and family. It also connected six sour girls together, who reveled in their own emotions in drawn-out and breathtaking prose. I'm curious to see where Zhang will go from here despite some questionable terms used, and I'm definitely excited to find out.

"We Love You Crispina"-3.5 out
Alanna Why
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: favorites
3.5 stars technically but Sour Heart is one of those collections that seems impossible to rate out of a five-star system. I didn't like this collection for 150 pages and then I REALLY liked two stories and then I felt very mediocre about the ending one.

And yet at the same time, I have not been able to stop thinking this collection, particularly the "bed" scene in the second story and the "barbed wire" scene in the fourth story. This collection reminded me of how gross and cruel children and fam
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A short story collection depicting the lives of Asian immigrants in New York living under particularly brutal circumstances - the stories are pretty graphic, and it was hard to read some of the brutality and violence, but Zhang's writing is unique and she delivers sheer deadpan humor that cuts through the grittiness of it all. I really enjoyed this one.
Auderoy Lin
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing

But what’s done is done, sourheart. Don’t you see? Everything happens for a reason. Everything happens for a good reason and we have to be patient if we want to find out what that good reason is.

Didn't it bother him that he was teaching his students poetry when he was certain it wouldn't make a difference in how their lives turned out? Didn't it bother him to be so sure that it was futile to even try?

We whispered our love you’s and the next morning, I woke up thinking I was born sad
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, fiction
This is an interesting collection of stories. I can't say that I enjoyed the book, but I guess I still learned something by reading it. The focus is on poor Asian immigrant families living in New York and the (often strange) sacrifices they have to make in order to survive. The writing is thoughtful, interesting, and sometimes insightful, but it's also dark, sprawling, and very stream of consciousness.

When I finished the book, the feeling I was left with was, "Huh, that sure was odd." Not every
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
A powerful collection of short stories that explores family relationships and the experience of migrants in America. Each story is told from the perspective of a different girl who has migrated from China (or Taiwan) to America with her parents. The stories have parallels and links but they each have their own voice.

There are a couple which deal with quite disturbing themes, the second story 'The Empty, The Empty, The Empty' in particular highlights some sexual behaviour by pre-teens which is re
Sour Heart is one of those rare books that is both tough to get into, and tough to get out of. Jenny Zhang’s seven stories are all told by young women struggling with their own families, identities, and places in their oft-changing worlds. For me, this one contained both rocky moments and much content worth reading.

This is another book I’m reading for AAPI Heritage Month, as part of Hype Lit’s May Reading Challenge. Zhang’s narrators are all recent Chinese immigrants to America, who are constan
The main bit of advice I'd give to anyone picking up Sour Heart is to read past the first two stories. Even if you want to stop, keep going.

Because after the frustrating stream of consciousness and run-on sentences that serve no real purpose in the first story, "We Love You Crispina," and what seems like vulgar attempts at shock in both that story and the one that follows - "The Empty the Empty the Empty" - the stories begin to focus on exploring Chinese immigrant family dynamics, and that is w
I hated this book at times. I found the first two stories borderline unreadable, exploitative, mean-spirited and such a rote play-by-play of ethnic poverty porn. The prose was sometimes was so sloppy and boring that I considered just donating the book. But ultimately I came to really appreciate it and was tearing up like 2am reading the ending.

Jenny Zhang wonderfully captures this specific type of co-dependent, sometimes toxic kind of love common in working class immigrant families. In some way
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
via my blog
“She looked like an alien. (But then again, I was an alien, too; that was the box I had to check on every form. Did aliens have unalienable rights? Were we entitled to liberty and justice?)”

Let’s get this out of the way, there are a couple of stories at the start of the collection that some readers may find disturbing, particularly the sexual encounters between Lucy and Francine and the horrible treatment of Frangie. In fact, some people will stop
Eric Anderson
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It feels apt there’s a luminous diagram of a heart on the cover of this book of short stories since it’s a collection which brims over with emotional tales of family life. Christina, the narrator of the opening and closing stories, has a penchant for sour fruit so her parents nickname her “sour heart.” But this name also reflects the attitudes of the different girls who are all the daughters of American-Chinese immigrants at the centre of these stories. Their tales explore innocence lost and fee ...more
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
loved the run-on sentences. i was enticed by the first page, and decided to purchase a copy. this collection of short stories centers the experiences of Chinese-American families who've recently migrated to the States (NYC- i loved the geographic specificity) through the perspective of their young daughters. Zhang portrays these girls and their families in a light that reveals their vulnerability, darkness and flaws. These protagonists often have a mean streak, and I'm glad Zhang does not shy aw ...more
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“Whenever I’m home for a few days, I start to feel this despair at being back in the place where I had spent so many afternoons dreaming of getting away, so many late nights fantasizing about who I would be once I was allowed to be someone apart from my family, once I was free to commit mistakes on my own. How strange it is to return to a place where my childish notions of freedom are everywhere to be found—in my journals and my doodles and the corners of the room where I sat fuming for hours, counting down the days until I could leave this place and start my real life. But now that trying to become someone on my own is no longer something to dream about but just my ever-present reality, now that my former conviction that I had been burdened with the responsibility of taking care of this household has been revealed to be untrue, that all along, my responsibilities had been negligible, illusory even, that all along, our parents had been the ones watching over us—me and my brother—and now that I am on my own, the days of resenting my parents for loving me too much and my brother for needing me too intensely have been replaced with the days of feeling bewildered by the prospect of finding some other identity besides “daughter” or “sister.” It turns out this, too, is terrifying, all of it is terrifying. Being someone is terrifying. I long to come home, but now, I will always come home to my family as a visitor, and that weighs on me, reverts me back into the teenager I was, but instead of insisting that I want everyone to leave me alone, what I want now is for someone to beg me to stay. Me again. Mememememememe.” 14 likes
“I long to come home, but now, I will always come home to my family as a visitor, and that weighs on me, reverts me back into the teenager I was, but instead of insisting that I want everyone to leave me alone, what I want now is for someone to beg me to stay.” 12 likes
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