Reviewed by Vanessa Rodriguez
College-bound Ever Wong has grown up to fulfill the future her parents have planned for her—become a doctor. It’s expected when her parents immigrated to America and sacrificed so much for their children’s success, something Ever’s mother constantly reminds her. If only she could summon the courage to tell her parents that what she really wants is to take Tisch’s dance program acceptance over Northwestern’s medical track.
In an attempt to keep Ever on the right path, her parents send her to Chien Tan, a summer immersion program in Taiwan. Sure that she’ll never slip her feet into a pair of dance shoes again, Ever discovers Chien Tan, dubbed as Loveboat, is eight weeks of freedom where Chinese Americans like herself are sent by their parents for cultural immersion, or in the case of her roommate, to find a husband. Here she meets Rick Woo, a well-known prodigy whose successes her parents have used as a measuring stick to her own and Xavier Yeh, a gorgeous, wealthy student that nearly every girl is after.
With Chien Tan’s limited adult supervision, Ever finds herself pushing aside the summer class work and partaking with her fellow students in clubs, drinking, opportunities for hookups, and anything else that might break her parents’ strict rules. But can Ever keep her head above water in this newfound freedom long enough to figure out who she really is? Or the strength to take what she really wants?
This YA romance is a lovely, slow burn that kept me turning pages through the night—two to be exact. Once the book settled into Taipei, the story was rich with Chinese culture, language, and food. I found Ever absolutely relatable especially as an Asian American myself, who grew up in the Midwest with a mother who sacrificed and worked hard to live the American dream. I too had intended to be a doctor, but I empathized with Ever when it came to choosing what was expected versus her passion and what’s in her heart. Thematically the author touched on subjects of happiness, friendships, first love and particularly on the recurring mention of Asian stereotypes. This was well handled with secondary characters pointing out the stereotypes and reclaiming them through their lens in a manner that is relatable to that generation.
As my first read of 2020 I found Loveboat, Taipei a quick read despite its 400+ page debut. The love interests were equally appealing making it difficult to root for one or the other, but didn’t fall into the trope of love triangle cliché. I found the romance satisfying and Ever’s attempts at “breaking out of her shell” to be both endearing and oddly reminiscent of my own transition into college. It is definitely a coming-of-age story that hits the mark.