Rating:

9780399166792HReviewed by Rachel Mann

I have to start this review of Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of) with a disclaimer. I’m a huge fan of Elaine Lui’s writing. Her celebrity gossip blog, LaineyGossip.com, is one of the sites I read religiously and daily. Because of that, I couldn’t wait to read this book, and I was certainly predisposed to like it.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken’s prose drew me in the same way that Lui’s blog entries do. It’s not, perhaps, what I expected, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The book is different from but complementary to Lui’s gossip site. It minimizes discussion of her career, and there’s hardly any talk of celebrities. In this way, Listen to the Squawking Chicken is quite a departure from LaineyGossip.com, which covers most of the major stars of our time in incisive, biting analysis and review. I was a little disappointed not to read more about some of these topics, such as the Faculty of Celebrity Studies, which is one of my favorite features on Lui’s site.

Reassuringly, Lui’s familiar tone transfers to the book even if the site’s gossip content doesn’t. Instead, Lui’s focus in this book is on her mother—the “Squawking Chicken” of the title—and their mother-daughter relationship. This shift in focus won’t be a total shock to longtime LaineyGossip.com readers, though, since Lui often brings up her mother and their shared experiences in the context of understanding the celebrity machine.

Through this “memoir, sort of,” as the author herself classifies this book, Lui illuminates her mother’s character and, thereby helps readers discover her own personality. The Squawking Chicken is the formative person in Lui’s life. Everyone else in the memoir plays second fiddle to her: Lui’s father, her husband, and even Lui. Along the way, Lui dispenses her mother’s advice and admonishments on topics from Feng Shui to shaming.

Lui’s writing is full of love, honesty, and criticism. She doesn’t shy away from the embarrassing or unpleasant details of her childhood (or her mother’s), but she doesn’t let them overtake the book, either. Instead, she tells readers about the Squawking Chicken: the things that made her this way, the kinds of things she does, and the lessons that she teaches. By doing so, Lui also reveals herself.

In Listen to the Squawking Chicken, Lui circles around topics related to her career in celeb gossip-mongering, including them almost as afterthoughts or placing them in the context of how they play into her interactions with her mother. Here’s hoping Lui will continue to craft vivid commentary about celebrity culture while perhaps revealing more of the machinery that has helped develop (and still contributes to) such discourse.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Putnam Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.