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Sour Heart: Stories Hardcover – August 1, 2017
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“In her book Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang arrives as a Chinese-American voice we haven’t heard yet. . . . The specificity and intense focus of her writing lends itself . . . to the stories in Sour Heart—to the different forms of fear and violence within its pages; the joys and thrills and cruelties traded among young girls; the way emotions and memories are transmitted across generations; how language—and its deficits—structure experience.”—W Magazine
“Zhang is a powerful fiction writer who offers an intimate look at girlhood.”—The Millions
“Compelling, compelling writing about what it means to be a teenager . . . It’s brilliant, it’s dark, but it’s also humorous and filled with love. . . . You’ll feel compelled as a human.”—Isaac Fitzgerald, Today
“Zhang, author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, lets these daughters of scholars and artists, who in the 1990s take America up on its many slow-to-be-delivered promises, be gross and unkind, and swear exquisitely. . . . Zhang’s insightful, combustible collection is in a class of its own.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart is a revelation. It’s the inaugural publication from the Lenny Letter imprint and also the most personally impactful collection of stories I’ve read by someone who looks, sounds, and thinks like me. Zhang and her characters are all young women from immigrant families trying to navigate life in America and I heard my voice in every sentence, felt my burdens in every paragraph, and saw my experiences in every story. In short: I related so hard.”—Goop
“Resolute in its ability to unsettle and even uproot—lighting your every nerve on fire, leaving your every synapse flashing—before gracefully relocating you with a newfound sense of firmness in yourself, a new understanding of who ‘yourself’ actually is . . . Zhang’s debut story collection, Sour Heart, comprises seven narratives that can fairly be categorized as coming-of-age tales, but which transcend any notion you might have of what that even means, courtesy of Zhang’s singular voice. . . . Exquisitely beautiful . . . especially relevant right now . . . It’s an insightful and striking work, one that aptly demonstrates Zhang’s prodigious gifts.”—Nylon
“Jenny Zhang’s debut short-story collection, Sour Heart, is bursting at the seams with honesty, reality, and a tremendous amount of heart as she traverses the world between being a kid and being an adult.”—PopSugar
“A gripping collection of stories that takes readers into the heart of New York City and the beautifully messy lives of the young girls that inhabit it. From unrequited love to the promise of dreams, Sour Heart captures the spirit of all five boroughs through eyes of the girls who grew up in them.”—Redbook
“Zhang portrays the courage, humor, and complex emotions of these young women struggling to come to terms with who they are, their families, their bodies, and growing up in poverty, in seven stories that feel true to life.”—BuzzFeed
About the Author
Jenny Zhang is a poet and writer living in New York City.
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Let’s get this out of the way, there are a couple of stories at the start of the collection that some readers may find disturbing, particularly the sexual encounters between Lucy and Francine and the horrible treatment of Frangie. In fact, some people will stop reading there. But not all the stories carry on in that vein and it would be a shame to miss out of Zhang’s solid writing. Too, the children running wild on the streets of Shanghai, coming into power, turning in parents, abusing and punishing their elders, naming any and everyone at their whim as a counterrevolutionary is beyond humiliating and horrific. History is not pretty. I was riveted by their struggles against poverty, trying to acclimate to a completely new culture and how it touched the lives of their children. Every immigrant experience is different. These are not light stories. When I got deeper into the book, they changed tone- the characters were fascinating.
Many earlier reviews point out that they've had a terrible reaction to it, and I pushed through some of the shock to the gooey center. There is brutality but there is something about a writer than can shake you that always captures my attention. "For my mother, the good life had long expired, there was only struggle and pain left to endure..."
It didn't uplift me but it was a gritty look into a different immigrant experience. It's raw, it's a rotting wound and it's not for everyone but those who can get through the ugliness of actions, they will be rewarded.
While each of these stories looks at different people and situations, there is a red thread connecting them all: their interaction with one family in particular. This central family begins and ends this collection, like bookends, introducing us to the way poverty, culture, and family intersect. And waving us goodbye with a story that looks to the future, examines the scars of the past on each generation, as we witness the beginning of another.
I do not want to delve into each story individually, but I think that this collection is perfect for those that grew up in New York City, any Chinese or Taiwanese-American immigrants, or anyone who is curious about the way the interaction between the second generation immigrant individual and their family.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
However, these short stories lean more toward character studies than narrative arcs. The stories are generally low in action and high in detail, which is an interesting particular way of writing. However, by the end of the book, it felt very repetitive. This book could have easily been four or five stories rather than seven without really losing any of the interesting qualities of the book. Generally, I prefer collections of character-focused short stories to be shorter, simply because they are so evenly-paced that it starts to feel repetitive, as though you aren't getting anything new from continuing to read.
I was hoping that these stories would be more narrative-based rather than character-focused, but if you love character-focused stories, then you will love this book! It is simply not my preference but I would highly recommend this book if that sounds appealing to you.
I will say that for a debut collection, this book is remarkable. I will happily follow Zhang's career in the future to see how she grows as a writer. Unfortunately, I do not think that this collection is as phenomenal as I would have liked it to be.
Over all, I gave this collection a 3 out of 5 stars, but I could see it easily being a 4 or 5 out of 5 stars for someone who loves character-driven stories.