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Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side Paperback – April 30, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Novelist Keltner (The Dim Sum of All Things, 2004) jumps on the Tiger Mother bandwagon with what is at its best a lighthearted look at growing up Chinese American. Packed with lots of saucy attitude, Keltner’s memoir reveals the pressure cooker that is life as a “tiger baby” and refutes much of the dogma related in Amy Chua’s controversial best-seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). The book fumbles into incoherence at times, however, as it vascillates from cultural commentary to mothering memoir, and some of the content is repetitive. Keltner’s habit of dropping casual asides about her family can also be disconcerting as there seems to be little groundwork provided in some cases to support her opinions. Readers thus are buffeted from some truly amusing anecdotes about organizing play dates to questionable assertions about family dynamics, which makes for an uneven reading experience. However, it cannot be discounted that Kelner does challenge what was sold as prevailing orthodoxy among Chinese American families only two short years ago, and, as an attempt at literary balance, Tiger Babies is well worth a look. --Colleen Mondor


“The author writes with compassion, humor, love and anger about her mother’s combination of tough love and high expectations…A quirky reflection on the modern immigrant experience and hyphenated ethnicity in America.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“An inspiring take on mothering -- and daughtering. The book is smart, creative, and thought-provoking.” (Linda Small, author of Wimpy Parents: How Not to Raise a Brat)

“A sort of Asian American Sex in the meeting someone who voices thoughts or experiences that you presumed were wholly yours...cynically humorous and genuinely touching...Keltner’s wry sens of humor leaps off every page.” (generationrice)

“Full of feisty humor. . . . Smart and sassy.” (USA Today)

It’s awesome to find such deep truth that makes you laugh this hard. (Beth Lisick, author of Everybody Into the Pool)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006222929X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062229298
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 4th grade, Kim Wong Keltner won a cutthroat spelling bee which encouraged her aspirations as a writer. Over the years, she honed her ear for dialogue while listening to elderly Chinese ladies dish dirt over endless games of mahjong. Kim met her husband, a native Californian of Norwegian-German descent, at a Chaucer seminar when she strode up to him, stretched out her hand and said, "Come with me if you want to live."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Dunyazad VINE VOICE on May 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
I received this book for free in exchange for a review, which meant that I felt obligated to finish it. I might otherwise have set it aside after a few pages, because I could tell immediately that the writing style was not for me. It's painfully colloquial at times ("So keep moving cuz ya don't wanna get sucked into a dark, dead zone"), only loosely structured, and has poor argumentation (the fact that an aunt committed suicide is "proof right there that something sucks in Chinese thinking", because non-Chinese people never kill themselves, right?). There were times when I felt like I was reading an angry blog post rather than a published book.

I do feel sorry for the author's unhappy childhood, which she presents as an example of the costs of the "tiger parenting" promoted by Amy Chua in her controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Keltner's mother had high expectations and wasn't very affectionate. Keltner also participated in various extracurricular activities, like piano lessons and Chinese school.

I couldn't help feeling that this was a much lesser version of tiger parenting, though. One of the most striking things about Chua's parenting style was the results that it accomplished: she pushed her children to the point of performing at Carnegie Hall as teenagers, and she did this in part by attending all of their music lessons along with them, taking notes and then guiding their intensive home practice sessions as well. I suspect that this method of developing prodigies is a large part of the reason why people were so interested in her book: both the methods and the results are extremely dramatic.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Cathy Liu on April 30, 2013
Format: Paperback
Most of the couple of million Chinese Americans around the country will find some deep truths and understanding about themselves and their parents by reading Kim Wong Keltner's book. Tiger Babies Strike Back may be defiantly dismissed by Tiger moms and their ilk, but they should take note. It's constructive criticism that's worth consideration. The old Chinese way of discounting the value of emotions wreaks havoc on their children's ability to be fully actualized human beings. So, while their children may be highly regarded for their external accomplishments, internally, they are a piece of work (Kim shows us exhibit A & B). Most Chinese parents want their children to be overachievers not just to brag to their friends, but perhaps thinking--mistakenly--that their children's successes will shield from the continued injustices inevitable with racism in America. Alas it's the eternal parental tale of all the best intentions yielding unintended results with the added element of the hyphenated American experience thrown in. Kim's personal story of what she chose to embrace and reject from her Chinese American mother as she became one herself inspired me to examine my own Chinese American way of mothering.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ruby Soho on May 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While the focus of Wong Keltner's new book may be the Chinese-American experience as spawn of a Tiger Mom, many of her experiences are universal. She examines complex family histories, cultural touchstones, bitter memories of childhood slights, and struggles to forge new traditions -- all of which are specific to her experience growing up as a Chinese-American and yet are relatable and accessable (and often close-to-the-bone) for just about every reader.
It is refreshing to read an honest and authentic voice that is unafraid to shine a light on the places culture and convention often ignore. Her conversational tone and ease with insightful anecdotes makes for a delightful and entertaining read.
While her struggle with leaving her hometown of San Francisco struck a very personal cord with me, I was especially taken with her "battle hymn" of those who opt for experience over quantified results, unconditionally expressed love over stoicism, and cloud-watching over needlessly packed schedules.
In all, this is a clever response to the Tiger Mom movement in both structure and content. The ultimate way for a child pushed to conform and produce the results someone else desires is to tell her own, very personal, story. I must say, though, that while Wong Keltner may still be stinging from her experiences as a Tiger Baby, her Tiger Mom must have done something right to help put such an interesting, compassionate, and creative soul out into the world.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert H. Martin on May 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kim Wong Keltner is finally back, this time with her first non-fiction book. I think I liked it even more than her three novels (which I loved). She's funnier than ever, but also really insightful about the challenges of being a parent while still being the (adult) child of your own parents who still want to treat you like a child.

Framed loosely as a response to the "Tiger Mom" book from a couple years back, "Tiger Babies Strike Back" offers a different take on strict/controlling parents -- namely, the point of view of the child who has survived this kind of upbringing. Now that she's a parent herself, Keltner revisits the choices her own mother made -- rejecting many of them but also coming over time to understand where her mother was coming from. More memoir than manifesto, "Tiger Babies" is a humorous and touching exploration of family relationships and whether "success" is more important than living a happy and fulfilled life.
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