Nineteen-year-old Taiwanese Mormon girl, ALLISON HONG, meets twenty-year-old rebellious American Mormon missionary, CAMERON CHASTAIN, in Taipei and elopes with him to his hometown in Texas when she is twenty-two.
Sixteen months into their marriage, one day Allison goes home to their apartment and discovers that during her two-hour absence Cameron has moved everything out, cut off all services, withdrawn all the money in their bank account, and served her divorce papers.
From a powerless, abandoned immigrant bride to a confident woman in command of her own destiny, 99 Fire Hoops, A Memoir tells the story of how Allison’s choice to break the Chinese cultural expectation for women to submit to men’s will allows her to create her own destiny.
Allison was born and raised in Taiwan and arrived in the U.S. at age twenty-two as a university student. That's when she realized her school English wasn't much help when asking for directions on the street or opening a bank account. By recording each of the classes she took––including physical education––and reviewing the tape every night for a year, she eventually learned English well enough to earn an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. But please excuse her if she misuses the verb tenses or mixes up the genders in third-person pronouns when she speaks. It's no secret; English is a hard language to learn.
Allison writes in both Chinese and English, both fiction and creative nonfiction, which means she spends a lot of time looking up words on Dictionary.com. She's a Pushcart Prize nominee and her work has won both national and international writing contests: Grand Prize in 2010 Life Story Writing Contest in Taiwan, Grand Prize in the 2019 MAST People of Earth writing contest, the inaugural winner of Sandra Carpenter Prize for Creative Nonfiction, first-place winner of the 2019 Segullah Journal writing contest, first-place winner of 2020 Opossum flash contest, and many more.
Visit her at allisonhongmerrill.com, where you can sign up for her extremely short monthly email.
Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Soul-searching. Powerful. Triumphant. I was blown away by the author's description of her childhood and upbringing in Taiwan, and her subsequent trials in her marriage in the US. I loved watching her find her strength and choose her path. So inspirational. Allison Hong Merrill wrote this book in a way that reveals her personality, character, strength and soul. Just beautiful.
From the first three pages of the book I felt an overwhelming sense of concern, anxiety, curiosity, anger and admiration. As stated in the title, this book is a memoir, a true autobiographical account of the author's life. My first reaction, that of concern, stems from the beginning of the book where the author recounts the moment she enters the apartment she shares with her American husband to find he has moved out, shut off the utilities and left her, a young Taiwanese girl who barely speaks English, completely and utterly on her own. My anxiety came as the author wove the story of her childhood, upbringing, the customs of her culture and the expectations of her parents, through the story of surviving the abandonment of her husband, who has taken all of their money (some given to her by her uncle) and filed for divorce. My curiosity was piqued as I learned about the customs of her people and the traditions that demand a woman to submit to men's will, be it a father or a husband. Curiosity drove me to read late into the night to find out why this sweet young woman was subjected to such horrible treatment by her father and then, by her husband. Which introduces the anger. I felt upset and angry that a father could treat a child with such hatred and disregard. I felt upset and angry that a husband, with an overinflated ego and extreme porn addiction, could be so manipulative and cruel to a wife who did nothing but love him. And finally, I felt extreme admiration for this woman who, in spite of it all, found the strength to not only survive but thrive. This is a story of courage, resilience and determination. Allison Hong Merrill endures circumstances that are beyond comprehension, yet through each situation, she manages to keep going, keep trying, and keep her faith and emerge successful, accomplished, respected, admired and happy. No one deserves it more than she does. Absolutely one of the most beautifully written and remarkable stories I've read.
I was so moved by Allison Hong Merrill’s NINETY-NINE FIRE HOOPS that my emotions were all over the place, tissue box at hand. She survives an abusive childhood, a marriage in which her husband moves her from Taiwan to Texas then abandons her. And with great bravery she a builds a vibrant new life with support from the Mormon community, where she meets her wonderful second husband.
Allison’s beautifully written memoir grips from the first page. I was awed by her spirit, the way she turns suffering into realized dreams as she grows confident, true, and strong through faith, love and sheer will. Like all great books, NINETY-NINE FIRE HOOPS leaves the reader changed and inspired by a story that stays with you long after the last page is turned. Brava, Allison!
5 of 5 Stars Pub Date 9/21/2021
Thanks to the author and She Writes Press for the review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
I picked this up after seeing an appeal on GoodReads seeking audible readers to review this Memoir. Briefly, the author attempts to change her cultural teachings after being abused and betrayed by virtually everyone in her life.
Basically, she entered the United States without being able to read or write English, and was dependent on the man (a stranger) she agreed to marry, she thinks. She doesn't communicate well with him either. Given her cultural background, she would not be accepted back by her birth family if she had the means.
The story audibly is long. It feels repetitive. Every problem she faces, she remembers her father's teaching, and goes on to make bad decisions. I made it to about 70% and stopped. It felt like the neverending story.
With respect, the author was born into a society where her life is not uncommon. Cruel is an understatement. If you have never read the life of a Taiwanese woman this is a good place to start. By sharing her story, standards and education will increase awareness.
The narration is okay. I do believe from a performance standard a slight Taiwanese accent would have gone a long way.
A really unique memoir--I loved learning about Taiwan and the LDS community as well as the author's own story. Allison Hong Merrill makes three intertwined journeys, through family, faith, and immigration, each filled with danger, heartbreak, and ultimately joy. Watching Allison grow from fearful child and unknowing bride into her own power to love and be loved is meaningful and moving, and discovering her native Taiwan through childhood stories is fascinating. A powerful and inspiring journey from loneliness and fear to love and hope.
I received an ARC and am delighted to leave an honest review!
This is a beautiful, painful memoir about a woman's immigration to America, her husband's betrayal, and how she picked herself up afterward. It's a very honest portrayal of childhood abuse, what it's like moving to a completely different country, and an inside look at the culture within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The author recognizes her strengths and faults along with the strengths and faults of others. Quite moving.
Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is a beautiful memoir that will bring you to tears and make you laugh in the same few pages. Allison Hong Merrill’s experiences growing up in Taiwan are both heart-wrenching and inspirational, as she rises from the ashes of a neglected and abused childhood, to arriving in America as a young, engaged woman, only to face harsh disappointments and broken dreams. Interwoven into the compelling scenes is Allison’s resilience that burns deep in her soul, propelling her forward a day at a time, until she can fully grasp how her trials have made her stronger, more sympathetic, and more loving. Blending her remarkable heritage with poignant insights makes this book one to absorb instead of simply reading.
This memoir/story was beautiful, tear filled, heartbreaking, with some great humor mixed in. I felt the pains of the author’s hardships growing up, hated by her parents and surviving their cruel words and actions. Allison had only her sister Dee. But later found hope and love with Brother and Sister Baldwin, senior missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I loved the explanations of our church mixed in with Allison’s story. While reading this book, I wanted to hug her and tell her what an example of courage she was to me. While learning about her life, Allison also weaved in explaining her Taiwanese culture, which was fascinating to me. I really enjoyed how this book was written. Focusing on a moment in time, but also reviewing a moment from the past that brought an ah ha moment to the present. It has the feel of a fiction novel.
This memoir is unlike anything I’ve read. I absolutely loved it.
I am blown away. I cried, smiled, felt joy and shook my head at the things she has gone through in her life. The way she worded how she felt looking back on situations in her life stopped me in my tracks several times and helped me to see problems I face in a certain light. I’m grateful for her honesty in telling this story so I could gain more of an understanding in the many dimensions that make a person. The choices that make a person. Bravo for writing such a beautiful book!
I'm both honored and privileged to walk the writing path with my courageous spiritual warrior and writer friend, Allison Hong Merrill. As such, I offer this advance praise:
“Allison Hong Merrill has a gift for writing a dramatic tale while simultaneously sharing her hard-won wisdom. Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops reads like a novel. Merrill’s story not only gives a reader a greater understanding of Chinese culture, language, and traditions, but it also provides insight into the human condition while building a bridge between east and west. Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is a brilliant and beautiful debut!”
This book had me hooked from the moment I started! I couldn’t put it down. It was inspiring to read Allison’s story and to see how she persevered through so many challenges. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, and you’ll be in awe at Allison’s grit!
From the first chapter where Allison is abandoned, knowing very little English, I knew this book would open my eyes and make me cry. There are also times when I smiled and even laughed.
Allison takes us on a journey of self-discovery through years of being disregarded by others and misunderstood, but always seeking a greater purpose for herself. She finds comfort when she joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but is still not ready for the heartache she wades through in her search for happiness.
Reading this book, I felt like I was on multiple journeys. One was learning the difficulty of Allison's life - something of a trial by fire. But I also gained insight into Chinese culture, problems with being an immigrant in a strange land, and what it means to cling to faith and hope. My takeaway was how Allison found love from God, and through this, she kept moving forward - sometimes making mistakes - but always searching to find something more than what she was dealt.
This story is full of heartbreak, and moments where I was angry on Allison's behalf, but ultimately, it is a story of discovery and hope. I believe Allison came to know who she really was and why she deserved love. Isn't this a lesson we all need to learn?
If you are ready to read an honest story of what it takes to triumph, this is the story for you. I highly recommend this memoir.
In Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops Allison mentions how at a low point in her life, of necessity, she made a cheeseburger last all week. Unable to have that kind of restraint, I finished this book in two sittings, wanting to know what happened next, but also desperately waiting for the good things I hoped were coming.
It takes courage to write introspectively about the entirety of a life, not filtering out the hard parts, and even admitting to parts where your own lapses in judgment caused problems. Allison has shown courage, resilience, faith, and humility in sharing her amazing journey. She has indeed jumped through all ninety-nine of the fire hoops! Most remarkably, she is the one who broke the cycle of abuse and hostility, refusing to pass on a toxic legacy, and has gone on to forge a life of happiness and peace.
Get your own copy, because I'm not letting anyone borrow mine! BYOB (Buy Your Own Book)
Neglected by her birth parents, and ultimately disowned by her father for not adhering to his expectations of an obedient daughter, Allison Hong Merrell is determined to get what everyone needs. Love. Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is the poignant, yet often funny, story of the mistakes she makes along the way. Her determination takes her across the ocean to a country where she is reluctant to speak because she has not fully mastered the language. Abandoned by her immature husband and exploited by his family, she faces new challenges with courage and grace while giving her readers a glimpse into the culture of her Chinese heritage and the Church of the Later Day Saints. Allison Hong Merrill has found her voice.
A very gripping memoir, telling of growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive family in Taiwan, jointing the LDS church, falling for an American missionary and marrying him after his mission much too quickly, their terrible marriage in Texas, and her struggle as a young divorcee to finder herself at BYU, find love, and make peace with her family in Taiwan.
A really good, engrossing read. She was very positive about the role of the Church in her life, although critical of BYU dating culture. I would have been interested in hearing more about her thoughts if LDS culture played a role in some of the poor choices she and others made leading up to and during her first marriage.
I was pulled in from the first page to the very last. You can't help but feel compassion for Allison with every page turn. The faith she maintained while enduring hardship after hardship from abusive parents to a deceitful husband who abandoned her in a foreign country with nothing to her name would inspire anyone going through trials to persevere. This is my new favorite book, and I HIGHLY recommend it to everyone!
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. It's beautifully written and skillfully paced, with a gripping, page-turner quality that kept me reading and reading and reading to find out what happened next in Allison Hong Merrill's life.
I could not put this book down! Allison's story of coming to America from Taiwan and discovering her faith, as well as her fierce survival instincts, feminism, voice, and will to love despite the abuse she suffered is amazing and inspiring. I love the authority with which she owns her perspectives and beliefs. A well-crafted story that would make a great film.
From the first page to the last page, I was enraptured in the saga of Allison Hong Merrill's memoir. The story alone is enough to capture the attention of readers. However, her writing style added a simple power to the story that kept me coming back for more. In between my reading sessions, I found myself often reflecting on the situations she found herself in. I tried to envision how I would respond or react to her many life experiences, good and bad. I remembered her strength as she struggled throughout her life because of the choices and actions of others and sometimes because of her own choices. I appreciated her honesty, vulnerability, and courage in sharing the difficulties she went through. Mostly, I loved the faith she continued to show throughout her life. Faith that things could get better, faith that she had a purpose, and faith in God, whom she learned to believe in, rely on, and feel love from.
Carrying an authenticity as captivating as any true work of art, Allison Hong Merrill reaches into her heart and bares her soul with such breathtaking pain and beauty that you are entangled in her life as if it were your own.
Allison Hong Merrill bares her soul in this beautiful memoir.
It’s authentic, soul-searching and painful… but most of all it’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit as the author goes above and beyond her endless challenges, which include childhood neglect, abuse, prejudice, sexism, cultural challenges, language barriers, classism… to ultimately triumph over adversity.
I love the voice that permeates this memoir; it’s one of innocence and determination, coupled with a never-give-up attitude and an intense belief that will not be shaken.
This story is an amazing gift from a generous soul, offered to every person who gets to read it!
This well-structured memoir begins with a light-switch. The light won't turn on, but suddenly the author as a young woman has a revelation, she can see more clearly. She looks back on her life to tease out the reasons for this difficult moment, to bring greater awareness to her life, to make changes for the future. This structure works well, because I wished to keep reading to find out how she was able to create that better life. This is such a great reminder about the power of writing and reading to give us greater awareness of our past and present. What I find so impressive is Allison Hong Merrill's mastery of the English language after having a limited English vocabulary when she arrived in this country as a young bride. The power of her mind and spirit not only to learn language, but to create art and deeper meaning with it, is inspiring. The scenes are so expertly drawn, I can see them. This book would make a fantastic movie. Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is a wonderful title and their are 99 chapters to reflect the hoops the author had to "jump" through to make it to the present. I read an ARC and I look forward to ordering an autographed copy by the author when the book is released.
What a triumph of a story! I’m so inspired after reading Allison Hong Merrill’s coming-of-age memoir of emerging some of the deepest losses and tragedy life has to offer to a place of strength and voice. The opening scene (and many others) will break your heart and the ending will make it soar again. I read the whole book within a day and couldn’t put it down. This is human resilience on full displace with grace and hard-won love—a journey from lost to found, from pain to forgiveness, from afraid to brave. As a fellow writer who often writes and reads about themes mentioned here with regards to LDS culture, it was refreshing and urgent to read them from the lens of someone who encountered the church in a very different context. We need more books like this. Readers will fall in love with this narrator and root for her all the way to the end.
A compelling memoir into one woman's struggles and triumphs. Allison Hong Merrill shares her experiences of neglect, abuse, and disappointment, bringing readers along on the journey that eventually leads to joy.
Being an immigrant from Taiwan and also married to an American husband, I shared some similar experiences with the author, Allison Hong Merrill, whom I have the honor to know. Interestingly, I knew her years ago when we both had our blogs in a Taiwanese platform. Now Merrill has grown into an English writer from a Chinese writer. What a transformation!
Ninety-nine fire hoops is a memoir which cannot nor should be taken lightly. I love how Merrill commanded her language when she revealed her life stories one after another, faithfully and almost brutally honest with herself and the readers. I was shocked to learn of the miseries in her childhood and then her first marriage. This book is an amazing read. As I know Merrill personally, reading so many sad stories in her life is almost unbearable.
Yet, this memoir is not about the miseries but about faith and determination. Merrill was not shy to talk about her own misfortunes. I cheered for her when she repeatedly found her way out of her difficulties. I may not be as religious as Merrill or any church-goer, yet, I definitely can relate to the solace and power which religion brought to Merrill as it happened to too many people around us.
Throughout the book, readers witnessed how Merrill grew and shaped into the woman she is now. This memoir is more than Merrill’s life story. It is also a testimony of how religion can help people in troubled times.
A vivid portrayal of a pain-riddled childhood in Taiwan which drew the author to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, where she found the comfort of belief. Unfortunately, this belief prevented her from seeing clear warning signs in her early marriage to an American missionary. The marriage lasted sixteen miserable months before her husband moved out of their Texas apartment without warning, taking with him all their possessions, the young bride's family's money, cutting off all utilities, and filing a restraining order. From this place of absolute brokenness, Allison Hong Merrill begins to put together a new life. "We live in the narrative of gravity," she writes. "Life has a way of bringing us down to our knees, to the level of dust." With only a bare beginning of fluency in the English language, Merrill is forced into learning a language of "beggars' and lawyers' words."
Merrill quotes Jessica Handler, "Because so few people have ever been to the moon, astronauts have found that they can only fully connect emotionally with other astronauts." This book will appeal to anyone who's spent time on the moon.
I met Allison at a writing conference a couple of weeks ago, and when she told me a little about her book, I absolutely had to read it. From our one conversation, I knew that her memoir would be full of mind-blowing trials and obstacles, more hardships than most dream of experiencing in life. Plus, Allison struck me as an extremely intelligent and spiritual person I was eager to learn more about.
Every page is filled with blooms of faith and hope. And it’s a page-turner! Not only did I read it in a couple of days while on a camping trip, but so did my sixteen-year-old son! We sat around the campfire, chatting about the idiocy of the ex-husband, the stark differences between Buddhism and Christianity, and chuckling (yet again!) about the idiocy of the ex-husband. This is a HIGHLY recommended read from me. I expected to like this book and hoped to love it. My hope came true! Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops goes up there as one of my all-time favorites.
Allison Hong Merrill has given us a rare view into a Taiwanese childhood characterized by abuse and neglect at the hands of her mother, father, and stepmother. We are thrilled when she finds a way out, in the form of a young man who professes to love her no matter what. It isn't long before we see him for who he really is: an abusive, entitled individual who cares only for his own well-being.
This inspirational story will have you rooting for young Allison as she finds her voice in her search for a real home in a land thousands of miles from her place of birth. Her perseverance and refusal to cave to the expectations of her culture, her parents, her husband, and his controlling father allow her to find the man who will allow her to experience true love and belonging at last.
There's so much to admire in this memoir by Allison Hong Merrill.
It begins with the image of a light switch which doesn't work. It doesn't work because a husband has absconded with everything - money, furniture, the life she once knew and even the light.
But Merrill slowly finds her own light- in her faith, hard work and a loving optimism. There is a combination of innocence and fierce honesty in this debut book. It often left me breathless with its unique cadence and soft pulse. Yet, every chapter ends with sharp-eyed clarity.
You feel for the young immigrant and her trials by fire when she says "it's like trying to drink up the Pacific Ocean with a straw."
A beautiful read, and by the way, the most original "acknowledgments" page I've ever read.