That was why I used to keep everyone out: because once someone gained enough of a hold on you, they had the ability to crush you so small you disappeared.”
Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao is an own-voices Taiwanese-American young adult contemporary novel about a teenager named Ali who is the only Asian person at her predominantly white small-town high school. Having learned the art of apathy when it comes to the casual racist remarks and willing ignorant perceptions surrounding Chinese folx, her entire method of surviving is tossed into the blender when a new student arrives, a boy named Chase who also happens to be Taiwanese like Ali; a boy not afraid to speak up against said ignorance. When they start getting closer, Ali’s mother shuts down the relationship before it ever has the chance to bloom, sending Ali on a twisted path of family secrets, sacrifices, and shame.
Ms Chao has a way of writing such amazingly evocative novels with an incredible level of heart, charm, and authenticity, especially as it pertains to the challenges that diasporic teens must deal with. Her debut novel, American Panda, was delightful and beautifully inspiring, and her second title further cements her talents as an author of contemporary fiction.
One of the best parts of Our Wayward Fate is the writing. The story is told in a journal-like tone with casual yet candid expressions of Ali’s thoughts and feelings as the goes from trying to be invisible in her white-centric high school to all of her frustrations with her mother and to the comfort and conflicts that she feels as she builds rapport with the new boy, Chase. Because her musings and monologues feel so personal, it becomes easy to flip from one page after another after another.
Due to the effortless essence of the writing, the plot moves quite hastily from one point to the next, which can feel somewhat overwhelming at times, particularly if one processes the emotional responses a bit slower than others (which is something I do). Mostly within the last one third to one fourth of the novel, I felt as if there wasn’t enough time to gain my bearings from one big scene before the next one sprouted up. Even so, the structure of the story is excellently natural, so much so that these minor titbits weren’t an issue overall. It also makes Our Wayward Fate the perfect novel to read if one is looking for a quick bookish treat to complete in the span of a couple of days at most.
Another favourite component of Our Wayward Fate are the themes. Ms Chao writes remarkably complex and multi-layered dynamics of conservative family values, especially when they clash with multi-cultural upbringings. In this novel, we see how Ali struggles with her Taiwanese identity for fear of being further ostracised due to the bigots that encapsulate the small town she resides in and her desire to be more unapologetically open about the same cultural things that bring her joy (favourite meals, for example). There’s also the representation of the destructive capabilities of harbouring long-held family secrets, and how resentment can ferment when one blames others for their own choices rather than admitting their mistakes and taking responsibility for them.
Lastly, the romance between Chase and Ali, although not quite insta-love, does develop much faster than I expected it too. Since most of the narrative progression occurs in such a hastened manner, the swift budding relationship makes sense. Coupled with the immediate connection they feel because of their Taiwanese culture and the frustrations of dealing with racists, the interactions between Ali and Chase are marvellously charming and wholesome. Plus, they have superb chemistry.
Overall, Our Wayward Fate is a spectacular contemporary romance novel that has a fairly decent amount of heavy subject matters to tug at the heart-strings, while also being great commentary on the importance of honesty and trust within a family unit, as well as learning the strength that comes from letting go of a past that can never bring any semblance of joy to the present. Highly recommended for readers that enjoy sweet romances and stories that incite courage.
Publication Date: 15-October-2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Taiwanese Literature, Young Adult Contemporary
Page Count: 320
Content Warning(s): Racism. Micro-aggressions & Passive Aggressive Attitudes. Generational trauma from dishonour and family shame.
GoodReads: Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao