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Bitter Melon Hardcover – December 28, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—While this novel will tend to resonate most with Asian-Americans, many teens can find kinship with a high school senior straining against rigid parental expectations. Living in late-1980s San Francisco in a one-bedroom apartment with a Chinese mother focused entirely on the future success of her daughter, Frances (Fei Ting) is accidentally scheduled for a public-speaking class instead of Berkeley-worthy calculus. Soon she is so taken with her free-spirited teacher, Ms. Taylor, that she misses the deadline to change classes and must lie to her mother, especially once her talents lead her to off-campus speech competitions. Frances takes second place in her first attempt and gets to know Collins, a boy she has met in the Princeton Review class her mother is making her attend to boost her SAT score. Lies build until her mother finds a forged report card with no calculus. A Chinese American Association competition that Frances wins gives the woman a chance to take pride in her daughter's accomplishment, but instead of releasing her from a tunnel-future straight through to medical school, the win merely recasts the future Frances: now her studies must be journalism and she, the next Connie Chung. As senior year goes on, Frances works to determine her own fate, choose her own college, control her own money, and even date Collins. Chow skillfully describes the widening gulf between mother and daughter and the disparity between the Chinese culture's expectation of filial duty and the American virtue of independence.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA
(c) Copyright 2011.  Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

“Your papers say American but your blood is Chinese. You inherit my genes. You eat my rice. You will mold to my shape.” In San Francisco, Frances has grown up feeling crushed by the weight of her mother’s expectations that she will go to Berkeley and become a wealthy doctor. Frances doesn’t actively defy her mother until she takes a senior year speech class and discovers the truth in her teacher’s message, “language is power.” A few cultural details point to the 1980s setting, but this debut reads like a searing, contemporary story of timeless parent-child friction across cultural and generational borders. Frances’ mother’s cruelty is shockingly unrelenting and includes some Mommie Dearest moments. Chow adds depth to these scenes by making clear not only Frances’ boiling rage but also her confusion as she balances loyalty, tradition, duty, and independence. Readers will connect with Frances’ fury and yearning as well as her sense of empowerment when she begins to find her voice: “I am not a helpless prisoner anymore. Like a secret agent, I am plotting my escape.” Grades 7-12. --Gillian Engberg

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: HL730L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: EgmontUSA (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1606841262
  • ISBN-13: 978-1606841266
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,685,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Though "Bitter Melon" is my debut novel, my first publishing experience actually occurred in 1991 when I was a student at UCLA. In 1990, I wrote and illustrated "Waffles," a picture book story about my seven year old cousin’s obsession with Eggo Waffles. Because I had no professional art experience and because the story was written specifically for my cousin, I had drawn the pictures using ball point pen and crayons. About a year later, another student, who was the editor of UCLA'’s Amerasia Journal, asked me if I had done any creative writing recently. I innocently mentioned "Waffles," not realizing that he was soliciting material. When he asked me to submit my story, I was so embarrassed about my crude pen and crayon drawings. I evaded this editor’s repeated invitations and avoided him on campus. He was persistent, however, and eventually persuaded me to submit my original manuscript. I held my breath, anticipating laughter and derision. Instead, the editor asked me to redo the drawings in black pen and ink because the journal was printed in black-and-white only and the printer couldn’t pick up the crayon. The next thing I knew, I was doing my first reading along with other Amerasia Journal authors at a bookstore. By then, my cousin had forgotten about Eggo Waffles and had moved on to Yoplait yogurt.

My second publishing experience occurred without my knowing it. In 1992, I had written a poem and submitted it to a literary journal published by UCLA'’s English Department. I never heard back from them, so I assumed that my poem had been rejected and soon forgot that I had ever written it. So imagine my surprise several months later when a student I had met for the first time said that he liked my poem and started describing and reciting parts of it.

You would think that experiences like these would give me lots of confidence in my ability to succeed as a writer, but that was not the case. In my family, there was tremendous pressure on me to become a doctor or lawyer, and there was not much encouragement to pursue creative careers. As a result, it never occurred to me that I could become a writer. It was my husband who encouraged me to take writing more seriously. Because of his support, I began writing "Bitter Melon" in 1999. Eleven years and thirteen drafts later, it is finally being published.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lauren on December 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Bitter Melon is an incredible, touching, and inspirational story of one girl's fight to become the person she wants to be rather then the one who mother wants her to become.

Bitter Melon tells the story of Frances, a Chinese-American high school student. All of her life, it's only been Frances and her mother depending on each other, and her mother making the decisions with Frances trailing behind. So, when it comes to Frances' future, her mother has the whole thing planned out: Frances will got to med school and get a life much better than the one her mother received. Though, everything changes the day Frances accidentally walks into a speech class with a teacher who's like no teacher she's ever had before. With Speech class, Frances finds a new talent, a talent of public speaking, and soon enough, Frances builds up the courage to tell her mother who she wants to be, but will she be able to rise to the task in the end? Will she be able to tell the women who's done as much as she possibly could for her daughter that she doesn't want med school? Only time will tell in this tale of mother and daughters and the space and secrets that lies between them.

I'm sure everyone here who reads my reviews has had that one big fight or fights with their mother before, thought I doubt it's ever been as the one between Frances and her mother. Frances and her mother are both interesting characters.
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Format: Hardcover
Bitter Melon tells the inspirational story of Frances, a Chinese-American girl who is controlled by her verbally abusive mother, as she fights and struggles to break out of her mother's mental chokehold and create the life she wants for herself.

This book isn't just another contemporary novel. It breaks the mold from the rest, telling an unforgiving raw and real story without all the sugarcoating and sprinkled happiness. Frances' mother is so unbelievably horrible to her, but Cara Chow writes is so naturally, as if it's almost considered okay for a mother to talk to her child like that. But it's not. And this book had me so riled up, wanting to reach through the pages and punch her mother in face repeatedly. And even though I was so angry, I was very pleased. I say this a lot, but any book that can elicit that kind of strong reaction from me is definitely written right.

Not surprisingly, Frances inadvertently inhabits some of her mother's harsh personality. Her thoughts towards classmates and her cousin Theresa were sometimes downright nasty and mean-spirited. I'm not sure if it was intended or not, but either way, it adds another layer of realness onto Frances and her story.

Overall, Bitter Melon is inspiring and harsh and I enjoyed it very much. Even though it seemed to fly under the radar with all of the recent releases lately, I think it's one that deserves a chance and it's definitely one that I recommend to all readers!
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Format: Paperback
Frances plays the dutiful daughter, fulfilling her mother's ambitions to get good grades, be subservient and strive toward the best college and medical school. Then a scheduling error lands her in speech class instead of calculus and Frances discovers that she is a natural at public speaking. Her liberal teacher introduces her to new ideas and opportunities. This new-found freedom comes with a cost - hiding her activities and lying to her mother. As she takes this new path, Frances wonders why other paths are not available to her - why can't she date? why is Berkeley the only school for her?

This a well-written story about facing parental expectations, fighting cultural traditions and ultimately self discovery. The symbolism of the bitter melon will resonate with readers, as they explore a mother-daughter relationship that (hopefully) is unfamiliar.
Lisa Ard
Author of 'Fright Flight, Dream Seekers Book One'
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Format: Paperback
High school senior Frances is a timid and obedient girl, who only longs to excel in school so she can satisfy her mother's wishes of seeing her go to Stanford and become a doctor one day. This story was essentially Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother... from the unhappy daughter's point of view.

Chinese-American Frances has grown up in a cramped apartment with her single mom in San Francisco. The story takes place in the 1980's and obviously, Frances doesn't have access to internet, cell phones or social media, making her isolation from the mainstream all the more possible. Frances is truly withdrawn and mentally beats herself up for always falling short of her mother's impossible expectations.

The mother in Bitter Melon is incredibly unlikeable. I would have liked seeing some more shades of grey for a more nuanced and compelling story. The book opens with a disgusting scene where Frances is being forced to massage her mother's stomach as her mother loudly belches due to her ongoing stomach problems. Even allowing for the fact that the mom is very hurt at being abandoned by her wealthy husband and forced to raise her daughter alone and close to poverty, it's impossible to work up any sympathy for her. She is tone-deaf to any of her daughter's feelings and seems to enjoy constantly putting Frances down, fearing that any kindness will make her daughter too soft. The mother's plan for Frances to go to med school so that she can treat her mother for free and finally work out her stomach problem seemed idiotic to me. It's hinted that it's a pretty serious problem, possibly even stomach cancer... wouldn't she be dead by the time her daughter finally finishes medical school?
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