Regular price: $21.70
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover / Audiobook
Narrators: Cassie Simone and Karissa Vacker
Reviewer: Melissa on May 6, 2021
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
When I first heard about Parachutes, I thought it wasn’t the book for me because of the comparison to Gossip Girl. Boy was I wrong. (Maybe I should’ve placed a little more weight with the comparison to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.) If it wasn’t for the fact that I read some tweets by the author Kelly Yang, and possibly an article, about the inspiration for her debut YA novel, then I might never have given this novel about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma and smashing the patriarchy a chance.
They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them until her parents enroll her at a high school in California rather than spend the rest of her high school experience in Shanghai. Suddenly, she finds herself living in a stranger’s house with no one to tell her what to do for the first time, and she embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out. Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, is not thrilled by the new living arrangements. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course. Desperately trying to avoid each other, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. At it’s heart, it’s an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.
If you’re interested in how the #MeToo movement intersects with anti-Asian racism, then not reading Yang’s Parachutes would be a big mistake. While it came out last year, it is, nevertheless, a timely novel that speaks to the way that young Asian women, both American born and those teens who are parachuted into the US from other countries by their wealthy parents or on scholarship, are in many ways alone, easily manipulated, and preyed upon by teen boys and their male authority figures. Not only are teens vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault, and rape, but also this novel shows the ways that educational institutions are complicit in the harm done to girls like Dani and Claire because they fail to properly prosecute the perpetrators and, in fact, retraumatize the survivors. Based on the author’s own experience about having her own sexual assault at Harvard Law School, this novel rings true.
From the alternating narrators, Cassie Simone and Karissa Vacker, voicing Claire and Dani, to the short chapters, Parachutes drew me into the story quickly and made it impossible to put down. I read about 50% or more of the book in the span of one 24 hour period, staying up late into the night to find out how the rest of the story would play out. Through Claire’s perspective, readers get an inside look into the positives and negatives of being one of the uber rich parachutes. Claire may have access to anything her parent’s money can buy, but sometimes what she really needs is her mom. Someone that she doesn’t get to see very often because her mom’s all the way in China trying to make sure that Claire’s father doesn’t begin one more in a long line of extramarital affairs. She is, however, part of the most popular parachute crowd, and when uber rich Jay starts lavishing attention and expensive gifts on her, it seems like the beginning of a fairytale. But there’s way more going on than meets the eye, and you’ll only find out if you pick up the book.
I really appreciated that through the perspective of Dani and her friend Ming, we see the other side of the life that Claire and her friends live. Rather than AmEx cards and expensive clothes, they’re from much less privileged backgrounds and are at the exclusive private school on scholarship unlike most of the parachutes. Dani’s mom is an Filipina immigrant to the US, which means that Dani is a US citizen, but her mom works 80-hour weeks cleaning the homes of the wealthy Chinese community in East Covina. And while they don’t work as many hours, Dani and Ming are employees of the same cleaning agency. Due to her US-born status, Dani constantly feels that she can only present the best version of her life to her mom, instead of letting her in on everything that she’s going through. Ming is a scholarship student from China, who is forced to live in the home of a creepy man, nicknamed Underwear Kevin by her and Dani for obvious reasons, because the school makes her feel too guilty to ask for a larger housing stipend. In different ways, both Dani and Ming feel like they have to accept the incomplete generosity they’ve been dealt to get ahead in life.
In addition, I really loved the way the author and some of the characters describe what it’s like for LGBTQ2SIA+ teens of Chinese (and likely many other Asian ethnicities) descent. It gave me a better understanding of what some racialized people in the queer community face if they come out to their families and, they fear, their friends as well. I know Asian immigrants in real life who said they would be kicked out of their homes if they came out to their parents, but seeing it through some of the characters’ eyes here allowed me to see why queer Asian teens might feel that way because of the way their families have responded.
Although Dani and Claire don’t start off as allies, they will come to realize over the course of the novel that they have more in common than they realize. And it is only when they finally come together to support one another that Yang suggests they have a chance to overcome every obstacle that’s been put in their way.
Parachutes is a powerful #MeToo story that teens and adults of all ages should read. However, Asian immigrant and Asian-American readers will likely get the most out of Claire’s and Dani’s journey to smashing the patriarchy and contending with the vile racism and microaggressions that they face on a daily basis.
Buy Parachutes for a great price!