Monday, July 7, 2014

On Diversity: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Last week, I finished reading Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before and I'm working on a review for it, but first can we just celebrate this rare sighting of the Asian-American protagonist?! HOORAY! Balloons! Noise! Confetti everywhere! In recognition, I'm sharing some of my favorite quintessentially Asian-American moments from the book.

1. Asian Grandma Realness

He loves Korean food. When my grandma comes to visit, he won't leave her side. He'll even watch Korean dramas with her. She cuts him pieces of apple and peels clementines for him like he's a baby. My grandma likes boys better than girls.

2. The No-Shoes Rule

"Is this for the PTA bake sale?" Peter brushes past me and starts taking off his sneakers. "You guys are a no-shoes house, right?"

3. Probiotic Yogurt Drinks

Without turning around, he lifts his hand up for a high five and Kitty leans forward and slaps it heartily. "Hey, gimme a sip of whatever it is you're drinking back there."

"It's almost gone, so you can have the rest," she says.

Kitty hands it over, and Peter tips back the plastic container in his mouth. "This is good," he says.

"It's from the Korean grocery store," Kitty tells him. "They come in a pack and you can put them in the freezer and if you pack it for lunch, it'll be icy and cold when you drink it."

"Sounds good to me. Lara Jean, bring me one of those tomorrow morning, will you? For services rendered."

4. Halloween. #thestruggle #unfair

"What do you want me to do? Do you want me to pop over to the Halloween store during lunch and buy a red wig and be Mary Jane?"

Smoothly Peter says, "Could you? That'd be great."

"No, I could not. You know why? Because I'm Asian, and people will just think I'm in a manga costume."

5. Korean Stationery Life

Instead I sit down and write Margot a letter on stationery my grandma bought me in Korea. It's pale blue with a border of fluffy white lambs.

Based on personal experience, I've found that one of the challenges of being Asian-American is that you're in an in-between state: Asian, but Americanized. At times it's hard to balance what your family wants and what your peers expect... which is partly why I like this book so much. Lara Jean doesn't tiptoe around her background. And she isn't "weird" for having a no-shoes house, or for eating pungent food, or for having fluffy white lambs on her stationery. She just is. And she's surrounded by people who appreciate where she comes from.

I love all of this culture embedded into the book.

I love this idea of being proud – even if that pride is subtle – of your background.

For those of you who have read To All the Boys, what was your reading experience like? Did you like or even care about Lara Jean's culture? Did you learn anything new, or was it all old news? Discuss! Inquiring minds want to know!

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