Back-of-Book-Blurb: Even though it’s been ten years since their Houston high school days, co-valedictorians and best friends Whitney Lee, Hercules Huang, and Audrey Henley still delight in their once-a-month get-togethers where they talk, laugh, and confide in each other— although not about everything. Because each young woman has a deep, dark secret they think they could never share. Not even with their best friends. Then, during a girls’ weekend getaway, these three friends wind up revealing their most intimate truths—and realize that to get straight As in the real world, all you have to do is let go of the need to be perfect…
She Is Too Fond Of Books’ Review: Christine Son’s debut novel, Off the Menu, chronicles the lives of three Asian-American women in their late-20s. Having graduated at the top of their high school class together, they have maintained a close friendship in the ensuing fifteen years. Single and outwardly happy, the “Valedictorians” meet monthly to catch up on each others successes; they are:
- Whitney Lee – the daughter of Korean immigrants, Whitney is an attorney who is encouraged by her high-achieving parents to push herself on the “fast track;” she harbors a secret desire to be a singer.
- Hercules Huang – juggles her position as owner/chef with the added responsibility of supporting her father, who brought Hercules to the U.S. as a child and refuses to assimilate into the American culture.
- Audrey Henley – Korean-born Audrey was adopted as an infant by Texas oil tycoons. Her mother looks at Audrey’s teaching job as a diversion, and would prefer to see her daughter join her in charity support and volunteer work. Audrey’s hidden ambition is to secure an English professorship after she receives her PhD.
Christine Son hits the nail on the head with her descriptions of the gap between parental wishes for their adult children and the children’s own goals. In this section, Whitney (the aspiring musician), considers how differently she and her parents view music, while acknowleging the near-universal desire of parents for their children to have a better life than they themselves did:
It was strange that Koreans of their generation should laud classical performances with such fervor while denigrating all other musical genres. Perhaps their unfettered zeal was born out of envy, an emotional relic from their war-ravaged land when a violin equated with wealth, a cello with extravagance. This same generation – denied piano lessons in favor of food – had made them compulsory for their children, and after ten years of what Whitney had considered to be pure torture, her mother had finally relented and allowed her to rest the metronome. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
Some of Christine Son’s observation are unique to the perspective of second-generation Americans, such as issues of assimilation and struggles over which, if any, ethnic traditions to retain. In the case of Audrey, adopted into a wealthy Wasp family, her race and heritage have been denied her:
Race was almost a taboo topic at home, and whenever she had raised the issue about her origins, her mother had immediately changed the subject, her palpable fluster training Audrey never to discuss the subject.
Off the Menu started a bit slow for me; the three women seemed very distant to each other – despite being “best of friends,” they spoke on the phone only sporadically in between their monthly dinners. The storyline picked up some when the women revealed their hidden desires and offered support to one another. I did appreciate Son’s observations of the parent-child relationship and her insight into the immigrant experience, including the stereotyping that many minorities are subject to. The target audience for this novel is probably 10-15 years younger than me (late 20s, early 30s), or grown children of foreign-born parents.
The tagline on the cover says “When you don’t see what you want, it’s time to choose something … Off the Menu,” playing on the theme of Hercules’ Dragonfly restaurant. To continue the metaphor, the Valedictorians do indeed choose off the menu; they learn that variety is the spice of life and make their own recipes for success. (I can’t resist a bad pun, and there are so many culinary terms I could have used here!)
Many thanks to New American Library (NAL, a division of Penguin) for providing a review copy of Off the Menu, which I reviewed as part of a TLC Blog Tour. You can follow the rest of Chritine Son’s book tour here:
- Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine (author interview)
- Monday, November 3rd: Literarily (author guest post and giveaway!)
- Wednesday, November 5th: Beastmomma (author interview)
- Thursday, November 6th: Book Nut
- Friday, November 7th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
- Friday, November 7th: Ramya’s Bookshelf (author interview)
- Monday, November 10th: Pop Culture Junkie
- Tuesday, November 11th: 8Asians
- Wednesday, November 12th: Savvy Verse and Wit
- Thursday, November 13th: In The Pages
- Friday, November 14th: She is Too Fond of Books
- Monday, November 17th: Planet Books
- Tuesday, November 18th: B & B ex Libris
- Wednesday, November 19th: DISGRASIAN
- Thursday, November 20th: Booking Mama
- Monday, November 24th: The Literate Housewife Review
- Tuesday, November 25th: Feminist Review
- Wednesday, November 26th: Diary of an Eccentric
One theme that really stuck with me is that of parents wanting their children to have a “better” life than they did. Do you think this is universal? How has this played out (or not) in your own life? I was the first family member of my generation to go to college. Education is very important to me and J., and it’s a given that our kids will attend at least undergraduate school. In fact we joke/tease about which child will attend each of our almae matres (with the same levity that we argue over which kid roots for the Red Sox and which for the Yankees).