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Every millennial needs to read this debut novel
Jade Chang simply describes her book, The Wangs vs. the World, as “the story of what happens when a family loses all their money,” so allow us to fill in a few details: The patriarch, a Chinese immigrant who made a fortune in the makeup business, is the originator and loser of the wealth, and his children – teenage Grace, college-going Andrew – are the ones who find themselves without trust funds in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis. Oh, and they all leave their foreclosed Bel Air, Calif., home and go on a road trip (with their stepmother) to see the only family member still solvent: first-born Saina, an artist who lives in upstate New York and has her own issues to deal with. (It’s not easy being an It girl, okay?) Actually, Chang adds this: “In its truest sense, it’s a book about immigrants who never question their place in America.”
Chang was working at a luxury magazine when the recession hit, and it was her “front-row seat to the spectacle of rich people freaking out” that partly inspired the book. “There was this sense that anything could happen: Institutions that seemed impenetrable were collapsing, the world was turning upside down and no one really knew where things would be in a month or a year. I loved the idea of each of my characters being in a moment of turmoil at the same time that the larger forces that govern their lives – the family, the business, the country itself – are also in upheaval.”
The family’s conversation weaves in Mandarin, which Chang deliberately left untranslated, “to bring readers inside this family, and part of that experience is the fact that this family sometimes speaks Mandarin to one another.” She points out that that’s not the only code she leaves undeciphered: “Fashion is a language too! The whole family cares about clothes, and I was very specific about a lot of their choices and about the labels that are referred to. An ELLE Canada reader will probably get all of those references and get to understand another dimension of each of the Wangs.”
You, dear reader, will also find something else immediately relatable: Chang’s insightful, emotional portrayal of family dynamics that will have you calling your mom (and everyone else—even Great-Aunt Maude in Skookumchuck).