The combination of this cover and the vibes of the book made me think this was going to be a cross between Portrait of a Thief and the Crazy Rich Asians series, both of which I found pretty entertaining, solid reads, so I had this one on my shortlist when I was next looking for a lighter/fun type read. And with a lot of driving for work to close out the year, and access to the ALC for this from Libro.fm, the time for a "keeps your attention and doesn't require too much mental investment" read was nigh.
Ava Wong is a little stuck in life right now, having taken a long break from her high key job as a lawyer to raise her young son, who is struggling through a period of major temper tantrums, while her husband works long hours as a surgeon. When an old college friend, Winnie Fang re-enters her life, with a proposition to get involved in her luxury handbags counterfeit scheme. Winnie is looking for help from someone like Ava, who can travel back and forth to China with her US-passport and fly under the radar. Though Ava originally balks at the illegal activity, she finds herself in a tough spot and ends up taking the plunge. This partnership takes some major leaps, unexpected turns, and offers some comically insightful commentary on the production and economics of these designer handbags and the way Asian/Asian-American women are viewed in the world.
Well, this was the entertaining read I was looking for! I personally have no earthly idea about luxury handbags or any other designer sh*t , so all of the details and specifics about the products themselves went mostly over my head. I just accepted it as "that's fancy, got it" and moved on. Haha. That being said, that did nothing to dampen my overall enjoyment of the read. It opened with Ava essentially giving evidence to, being interviewed by, detectives about Winnie (who seems to have fled the country) about how she got trapped in this scheme (listening to her describe it is like watching a "can't tear your eyes away" accident situation) - getting in over her head and not knowing how to get out without damaging her family. An interesting narrative device, to be sure.
The way Ava tells it in this first part, this is a manipulative (charming and ruthless) level of “friendship,” in the vein of Wahala and Tangerine. There is also a definite vibe, throughout, that Ava's narration is not entirely reliable...and I do love an unreliable narrator, so I was very interested to see where that vibe went. And then we get to part two, which flips everything Ava was saying on its head (as I was hoping!). It's cunning and creative and takes advantage of so many widely held (in the Western world) Asian/Asian-American women stereotypes, reclaiming them for their own benefit. I don't want to say too much, so as not to give away the "twist," as it were. But suffice it to say that I was here for it, this take on the glorified "mobster" mentality/stereotype with a wry and feminine twist, was a great vibe.
There was also some present, if light, recognition of the dark side of these luxury items, highlighting the horrific working conditions of the international factories where these handbags are made. I actually really appreciated the interrogation of what makes one of these bags "authentic" versus "fake," if both are being produced in side-by-side factories owned by the same conglomerates. And the mark-ups?! Unbelievable. For essentially the exact same product! Anyways, like I said, not a super deep look at these issues, but a recognition and awareness of their presence/role in the industry at least. There was also a look at the ridiculous expectations on parents of young children, and the anxiety-producing competitiveness for kids as young as pe-school aged - yeeeeesh, count that among the many reasons I don't plan to parent. It was horrible to read about.
If you're looking for something not too deep, fairly fun, a bit unexpected, with a snarky "darker side of feminism" vibe that gives a truly diverting reading experience, this is a solid choice.
Moderate: Alcohol, Gaslighting, Death of parent, Classism, Toxic friendship, and Terminal illness