Title: The Life of a Banana (review copy)
Author: P.P. Wong
Blurb from Goodreads
Xing Li is what some Chinese people call a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Although born and raised in London, she never feels like she fits in. When her mother dies, she moves with her older brother to live with venomous Grandma, strange Uncle Ho and Hollywood actress Auntie Mei. Her only friend is Jay – a mixed raced Jamaican boy with a passion for classical music.
Then Xing Li’s life takes an even harsher turn: the school bullying escalates and her uncle requests she assist him in an unthinkable favour. Her happy childhood becomes a distant memory as her new life is infiltrated with the harsh reality of being an ethnic minority.
Consumed by secrets, violence and confusing family relations, Xing Li tries to find hope wherever she can. In order to find her own identity, she must first discover what it means to be both Chinese and British.
The Life of a Banana is a Young Adult novel about a British teenage girl named Xing Li and her struggles to fit in both at home and at school.
I am an outsider and what Chinese people call a banana: white on the inside, yellow on the outside.
The story opens with Xing Li and her older brother Lai Ker moving in with their maternal grandmother after the death of their mother. Their grandmother is a seemingly very cold and rigid woman who prides education and traditionally-high career aspirations such as medicine as the only important things in life. As the book unfurls we are given more details as to why Xing Li’s grandmother and mother didn’t see eye to eye due to differing value systems and priorities, and the plot follows the coming of age story of Xing Li as she tries to live a life that doesn’t conflict with how her mother raised her and the heavy expectations of her grandmother. These personal struggles are heavily interlaced with her attempts to deal with racist bullying at her new school, her burgeoning friendship with a mixed race Chinese-Jamaican-British boy at her school and her worries about the seemingly nefarious path her brother is taking in life. The book also touches on issues of mental health and depression and how these illnesses can be swept under the carpet in families for fear of ‘what will the neighbours say’.
The book attempted to tackle a great number of issues and managed many of them successfully, but, primarily for me, I found it incredibly difficult to get into the book. Xing Li was the only character that as the reader we were ever given motivation for, and, to me, she was vastly underdeveloped. I felt her to be quite bland and that her fear of the world around her was written in such a heavy handed manner that it stifled any possibility of a connection between reader and main character. And this was a story that needed more empathy that would connect me as a reader to the commonality of human emotion. But I didn’t feel that essence of what it means to be human from the main character quickly enough. I felt I was told about things that happened to her rather than truly ever experienced them with her. It took approximately until approximately the 65% mark and many days of reading for me to really get into the heart of Xing Li and her story. And for me that was too late and had this not been a ‘read to review’ copy I think I may have given up the book by about the 30% stage.
But I must say I am very happy that I struggled through because the ending of this book is its strongest aspect. There really does feel like some personal growth for Xing Li and her family and the book does exceedingly well in showing how the same life is perceived through a different viewpoint.
This was a slow and sluggish read that for the most part I did not enjoy it, but it was saved somewhat by its immensely powerful ending.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Legend Press, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*