Growing up in a Chinese community in San Francisco, Frances (Fei Ting) is no different than most Chinese-American children in the neighborhood. She’s expected to obey her mother in all matters, excel in school and fulfill her mother’s dream of attending Berkley to become a doctor. Frances’ ambitions are irrelevant; her mother, a single parent, has given up a lot to raise her and provide her with an education; therefore, her wishes trump anything Frances might want to do with her own life.
When Frances winds up in a speech class instead of calculus by mistake, she’s terrified of her mother’s possible reaction. And although she knows she has to fix the error, she lets the registration deadline slip by. Encouraged by her teacher, Frances is finally able to express herself and enjoy something outside the realm of rigid math and science classes. This act of rebellion is followed by others and soon Frances is sneaking out to attend speech competitions and school dances. She even accepts the attention of a boy, although she knows that dating is strictly forbidden.
For once, Frances allows herself to dream beyond the strict confines of a life created by her mother and dares to make her own choices. She knows that following her heart will require every ounce of bravery she can summon, but cannot imagine the hailstorm that her actions unleash.
Bitter Melon had somewhat of a slow start, but I was utterly engrossed by page 20. Although this is a fictional account, I could not help but wonder if the author, Cara Chow, had a similar experience growing up.
The relationship between Frances and her mother seemed outrageous to me, and the mother’s treatment of her daughter was disgusting and almost criminal. For example, Frances was repeatedly told that she was fat and unattractive, put on an insane diet to lose weight, lied to and physically beaten when the truth about speech class finally came out.
Although Bitter Melon is technically a young adult novel, I think it would make for interesting reading for adults as well. Teenagers will be thankful for their own parents after reading about Frances’, and parents will get a glaring example of how not to treat their children.
This book was provided free of any obligation by EgmontUSA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.