(Thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing me with a proof for review consideration at the Blogger Brunch last month.)
Loveboat, Taipei follows aspiring dancer Ever Wong as she's sent to Taipei by her strict family to learn Mandarin, rather than dance in the parade she's been looking forward to taking part in. But once Ever gets to the summer program she's enrolled in, she finds that it's an infamous free-for-all nicknamed Loveboat where for many participants, language learning and calligraphy take a backseat to hook ups and clubbing. Ever sets out to break the Wong Rules, assisted by some new friends including potential love interests.
This was given to me at the recent Simon & Schuster Bloggers Brunch and sounded super interesting. I'm really glad I moved it to the top of my TBR pile; it's a very strong debut and the setting is a unique one for books I've read. The theme of family expectations vs personal desires, as shown in Ever's desperation to dance vs her parents' desire for her to study medicine, and fellow student Rick Woo's relationship with long-distance girlfriend Jenna despite his family's disapproval of the romance, is a strong one and I appreciated the strong depiction of Ever's parents. Clearly, they have very different plans for her than she does for herself, and as desperate as I was to see her get her own way, I thought they were both well-written characters whose reasons for wanting her to take the security of medicine rather than the risk of dance were put across well.
I love characters who are passionate about things and there's no question that Ever's love for dance is an integral part of her character. From the first moment she arrives in Taiwan, she's desperate to find a place to dance and, despite setbacks, constantly keeps this as one of her main goals. This really made me cheer for her and I was definitely hoping she'd succeed. Her other goal is to break as many as possible of 'the Wong Rules', behaving in a way she knows her parents wouldn't approve of, which definitely puts her in some interesting situations. The speed at which she built up friendships felt relatable given the context of the teens being shoved together in a program which is very intense (although not for the reasons Ever's parents think it will be!), with my only quibble about her character being that she forgives something which, to me, felt REALLY unforgiveable surprisingly quickly.
In addition to her parents, the supporting cast has numerous strong characters, chiefly the two boys who are the potential love interests who have clear hopes, fears and dreams of their own. Both of the relationships Ever develops here felt really realistic and were built up very well. I also particularly liked Mei-Hwa, one of the assistants running the program, who starts off as a distant character but gradually reveals more of herself to Ever.
Other than Ever's quickness to forgive, as mentioned above, my only other issue with the book is that it feels slightly long for a contemporary, with my proof running just over 400 pages. The early part took me a while to get completely invested in and I thought could be pacier. That said, once we reached the build-up to the climax, I was completely drawn in and ended up staying up until 2 am to finish as I was so interested in finding out what would happen. It's also got a deeply satisfying climax and resolution, bringing together the love dilemma and Ever's desire to dance really well.
Definitely a recommendation and I'm excited to read more from Abigail Hing Wen.
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