This is a hard book for me to rate. On the one hand, I think this book is incredibly important. It touches on issues that are timely from a lens that I was completely unaware of. I also recognize, after reading the author's note, that many of the issues in this book are close to the author and her experience, and I can only commend her for her bravery in writing this book to help others. On the other hand, this book tried to do TOO MUCH and even almost 500 pages could not bring any semblance of depth to all of the situations the main characters encountered and lived.
The book follows dual protagonists, Dani, a Filipino American debater, and Claire, a Chinese "parachute" student sent to an American school in order to avoid the shame of failing in a Chinese school. Since Dani's family is so poor, they offer a room for rent to Claire as she attends Dani's school. The ensuing 400+ pages explore sexism, racism, classism, poverty, coming out, infidelity, homesickness, and, most importantly, rape and sexual assault. Unfortunately, the book handles most of these quite poorly. The cast of characters is so immense that we spend very little page time with anyone who is not our main leads, and even then, those two girls were so under-developed that I found myself more than once forgetting which one was speaking at any given time. Many of the subplots were dealt with superficially and seemed like an afterthought to squeeze one more issue into the book. There were so many extraneous details that contributed nothing to the flow of the story or the advancement of the plot. And the writing was very cool and detached, so much so that even in very harrowing and emotional situations, I felt no attachment to the character's plight.The writing style seemed almost like it was geared toward a younger audience with its sparse prose and tendency to tell, not show.
I am very disappointed to have negative things to say because I have the utmost respect for Kelly Yang, whose middle grade novel Front Desk was phenomenal. I just think this book missed the mark in more ways than one. However, I am granting it three stars because its content is relevant and important and I did want to keep reading.