Review: Beauty Plus Pity — Kevin Chong

Read: 5
To Go: 95

Book List:
1. Best Friends Forever — Jennifer Weiner
2. The Very Picture of You — Isabel Wolff
3. First Impressions — Nora Roberts
4. Blithe Images — Nora Roberts
5. Beauty Plus Pity — Kevin Chong

In this tragicomic modern immigrant’s tale, Malcolm Kwan is a slacker twenty-something Asian-Canadian living in Vancouver who is about to embark on a modelling career when his life is suddenly derailed by two near-simultaneous events: the death of his film-maker father, and the betrayal of his fiancee who has left him. Soon he meets Hadley, the half-sister he never knew existed — the result of his father’s extramarital affair — and as their tentative relationship grows, Malcolm is forced to confront his past relationships with women, including his own mother, an art teacher working through her grief as well as her resentment at her son befriending her husband’s daughter.

Firstly, this is one of my favourite covers. Ever. I just love the colour scheme and the way the title looks hand-drawn, and the illustrations, and everything. It’s so pretty and perfect!

Secondly, I feel that it is my duty to inform you all that I read this in one sitting. Just in case this review doesn’t adequately convey how much I enjoyed it.

Anyway, Beauty Plus Pity is one of those books that, if you were a regular human being and not a robot like me, you would probably cry at. From the multiple deaths, to Malcolm’s revelations about the ghosts of girlfriends past, to his mother’s difficulty dealing with his friendship with Hadley, there are several opportunities to cry if you have tear ducts and emotions. Sadly I have neither.

The tentative relationship between Malcolm and Hadley is super sweet and so realistic, especially his eagerness to get to know her (while trying to hide that eagerness as to avoid scaring her off). There are books with long lost siblings where the relationship is just too far-fetched to be real — a too-easily-forged friendship, knowing each others’ ins and outs almost immediately — but this wasn’t one of them and it was gratifying.

I also really liked the way Chong challenged the way people think of immigrant families; Oliver Kwan, Malcolm’s aspiring film-maker father, and Eliza Kwan, his artistic and slightly deranged mother were anything but “typical Asian parents.” And Malcolm was anything but the typical first generation Chinese son.

And while the book had many a tender moment, and several tragic ones, they were perfectly balanced with the laugh-out-loud humour. While reading I bookmarked several descriptions and tidbits of dialogue for future re-reading, but the best one had to be coming from the mouth of a nightclub owner who Malcolm works for on a temporary basis:

“Go and see whether any lovely ladies want to dance. Buy them a drink[…]do some close-talking, grind your crotch up to them. You can work individually or you could be like Batman and Robin, if they were heterosexual. No offence. I don’t care. By the end of the night I expect you to have talked to ten women each. Whatever you do with them afterwards is none of my concern. I mean, don’t physically abuse them. Not unless they’re into that” (Chong 138).

Best. Paragraph. Ever.

The only thing slightly disheartening about the book is its overwhelming amount of references to (somewhat obscure) television and film. I mean, I don’t have much of an issue with intertextual reference, and more often you can get the gist by looking at the reference in context, but I would have had to see a lot more television and movies to understand even half of the references. Also, it was somewhat disappointing to find two embarrassing errors in rapid succession (read as: on the same page). Someone dropped the ball where editing was concerned.

But overall, a great book and totally worth reading. Or, at the very least, stare at the cover for a little while. I dare you not to fall in love with it.

Next book: I really don’t know. I have too many to choose from. (First world problems.)

– Kelsey

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