May 30, 2011

Monday Review: EXCLUSIVELY CHLOE by J.A. Yang

Today's review covers another book whose author I got to see speak at the Diversity in YA tour a few weeks ago. (You know we like to promote diversity in YA here at FW!) I checked out a copy of this book from the library.

Reader Gut Reaction: Let me start by saying this book was not necessarily my type of reading, but it IS a book that my junior-high-aged, Sweet-Valley-High-devouring younger self would have enjoyed: it's got a poor little rich girl with a heart of gold, plenty of Hollywood glitz to make you feel like you've got a window onto the rich and fabulous, and a plot packed with friend hijinks, family drama and even romance. And it has a multicultural angle to boot.

My older self has evidently become a tiresome cynic with less patience for improbable plot developments and happily-ever-after endings (which this book also has) but I really thought the premise of this book was appealing—Chloe-Grace Star, the narrator, was adopted as a baby from China by her actress mother and aging rock star dad. Now that she's in high school, she's starting to explore who she really is and wonder where she came from, prompted in no small part by her parents' impending divorce and the subsequent tabloid extravaganza.

Concerning Character: Chloe-Grace is, in many ways, just a regular girl...who just happens to be uber-rich and famous. She attends a high school for the children of privilege, and her friends are similarly fabulous. She takes a lot of this for granted until she finds out (in the worst way possible) that her parents are about to split. The fact that her life is turned upside down does a lot to humanize her, which is important with a character that isn't necessarily one the reader will relate to directly. After all, how many of us can just drop beaucoup bucks on an emerald charm bracelet from Cartier just as a comfort purchase?

Still, Chloe is someone who will definitely generate vicarious enjoyment in a lot of readers, though, and not just because of the wish-fulfillment fantasy of being a wealthy celeb. It's because she IS ultimately relatable. She wants love; she wants to be important in her parents' lives; she really is sincere and tries hard to be a good friend. It was a little less satisfying for me, personally, that solutions to her problems seemed to come relatively easily, and that there was a fairly wide cast of side characters who seemed ready to jump at the chance to help her out. (Hence my comment about improbable plot developments.) But the book is fun, no doubt about that.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Series fiction like Gossip Girl or Sweet Valley High. Stories about what it means to grow up Asian-American. Books about what it's like to be the child of a celebrity when you're trying to figure out who you are as an individual, like Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee.

Themes & Things: The definition of real friendship is a strong theme in this book—as is the idea that you can have different types of friendships with different people. The meaning of family is also important here, as Chloe explores her feelings about her biological versus her adoptive family. She never has doubts that her adoptive parents are her parents, and so she approaches the search for her biological parents with a reasonably healthy attitude, simply wanting to know more about where she comes from. Lastly, a major thrust of the story is figuring out who you are as an individual apart from your family or your friends—and the fact that such an endeavor is healthy and fulfilling.

Authorial Asides: Take a look at our post about the kickoff of the Diversity in YA tour, where J.A. Yang was one of the speakers. Also, don't miss his author website and the story of his unusual journey to becoming a writer—and what I'd call a Latte-Rebellion-worthy author photo.

You can find Exclusively Chloe at an independent bookstore near you!

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