What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Book Reviews, Ontario | 0 comments

What Happened This SummerSummary: A collection of short stories featuring Chinese teens living in Toronto. Stories cover generational rifts, identity issues, sexuality, immigration, the bonds of family and culture in the midst of the regular stress of finishing high school and growing up.

Number of Pages: 178

Age Range: 15-17

Review: Sadly, a day is not long enough to do justice to a collection of short stories. I liked the way Paul Yee connected the stories in his book by using and referring to characters who all knew each other, but I needed more time to let the stories sink in and realise their true meaning.

A couple did strike me though. The first was the one about Julie and it was called “Reading Made Me Have Sex.” Julie lives with her overprotective aunt and uncle who guard her closely to such lengths that Julie empathizes with the dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. All of this monitoring has only taught Julie to be more secretive about doing what she wants to. It’s a complicated story because Julie’s aunt and uncle are driven by the fact that they already lost a son to a car accident, and their protectiveness is fuelled by their painful knowledge of grief and guilt. Julie, however, is fearful and resentful and waiting until she graduates to just get away from them. I believe her aunt and uncle’s actions were fuelled by love, but lost something in its expression.

The other story that stayed with me was “Death Seems to Linger.” Simon’s parents died when he was just four years old, his father because of an accident, and his mother as the result of suicide. Growing up Simon was often told his mother was crazy and her mother was as well, but when his grandmother sends him a great deal of money to visit her in Hong Kong, he gets the chance to find out for himself if that is true. What he discovers is things are more complicated than they seem, and Yee leaves his reader with a startling revelation at the end of the story.

It was another eye opening read for me as Yee explores growing up in a Chinese community. There are a variety of experiences within the same community causing rifts in understanding and communication between generations. Reputation is of utmost importance, as is keeping one’s word. There’s so much tension and pressure building just under the surface of relationships, but empathy is difficult to come by. I’ve only read two of Paul Yee’s books, but those books definitely make me want to read more of his work.

Memorable Quotes:

“It’s warm today, with clouds in the sky, but not too dark – excellent for taking pictures with black-and-white film. On days like this the light is very soft, and you can record an amazing range of greys, blacks and whites. The camera is special this way. It accepts the world’s colours and textures honestly. It’s not like the human eye, censoring everything for safe consumption, shutting out the ugly miseries that we don’t want to see. Under this even light, the camera captures every wrinkle, every spot and every hair on your face. It shows a truth you can’t find anywhere else.” – Julia in Astronaut Dads Are a Pain from What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee, page 84

“My words pour out: ‘Kevin has Chinese friends, he likes Chinese food and now he wants to study in China. He’s going all out for something he wants, even if it looks strange. But you, you’re the opposite. All your life, you’ve tried to be invisible. Your room is all white. Your clothes are plain. You’re nice to everyone. You don’t get into trouble. Kevin was perfect until he became the one thing that didn’t fit into your world. A high-profile Asian.'” – Joyce in We’re Dating White Guys from What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee, page 121

What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee is published by Tradewind Books, (2006).

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