In the spring, I spent ten Thursdays going to the downtown UBC campus for Adobe courses and quickly acquired a routine: briskly walk down after work (30 minutes), often listening to a podcast or talking on the phone with my sister, stopping by the Chapters (bookstore) just next to campus for a quick browse through the bargain books and to pick up my tall non-fat chai latte to nurse through three hours (I drink really slowly).
One day, screaming from the bargain books table, I saw this book–the “Asian font”, the title, the unbeatable price of $4.99, the author (groan)–and just had to buy it. You would think I really liked Kim Wong Keltner (KWK, henceforth) since I now own all three of her novels, but I keep buying them in part because I keep finding her books on sale for $4.99. What is an author to think when her book starts selling for just a fraction (in this case, a mere 40%) of the original price?
At my age, I’m not normally inclined to read a novel about a young teenage girl who is dreamy about her contemporary youth fiction novels (in her case, Judy Blume). But the book cover told me that the protagonist is an awkward just-pubescent teen who works for her parents in their Chinese restaurant but dreams of a Sweet Valley High life. Could KWK have written the pseudo-memoir that I was going to write? Would I like her third novel and not gag when her humour gets tiresome and hyperbole?
While I was reading the first half of I Want Candy, I kept tapping NPY’s shoulder and telling him about how the main character is me, but born 9 years before me. I even got a creepy fear that Kim Wong Keltner had somehow lifted the diaries I had disposed of several years ago and stole my story. I don’t think it gives a great deal away but these are the similarities between me and 14-year-old protagonist, Candace Ong:
- Parents run a Chinese restaurant and put me to work absurdly young
- They sent us to private Catholic school, and we’re not Christian
- Having vastly uncool clothing
- Had a grade-school friend with last name Rigby
- Being a “fat f*cking dork” at that age (not actually fat, but didn’t feel the same as the taller, lean girls)
- Playing on a basketball team
- The suffocation and monotony of life, stifling an impressionable teen-aged girl
- Other similarities but I wouldn’t confess to them here!
The set-up of Candace Ong’s life was fascinating. I gasped at KWK’s courage to write the gritty details that brought me back in time to sweltering, endless, unsatisfying junior high school days when I was so bored of my life thus far. I read Sweet Valley High (read: fantasy) novels about the perfect California life and saw my female peers have a lot of fun with boys that made me feel ugly to not be part of it. For me, the pace of exposition was perfect–in past novels, I felt like KWK was laying on her examples at too fast a rate, tending to exaggeration; in this novel, I thought the character was believable, clouded of course by my own past.
Midway through the novel, things got really weird and there is even one horrifying image that is actually quite profound. I was unhappy about that and thereafter just wanted the book to end. Ghosts come to the forefront; I hate that KWK had to do the “Chinese thing” and invoke spirits–I was so disappointed. And then it ended the way it needed to end. To her credit, KWK was very effective at getting into character and concluding the novel the way a cynical, post-modern teen-aged girl would make conclusions from her experiences.