Wangs vs the World: Book review

The Wangs vs the World book review

What is this about?: The fall of the Wang family, from riches to rags (so to speak) and their consternation at losing it all. Half-way funny before the family itself gets tiresome.

What else is this about?: It follows, quite well actually, what each member of the family is grappling with, but unfortunately, I eventually realised, I didn’t care about them.

Stars: 2.5/5. Objectively speaking, it’s funny and Goodreads bears out this books popularity with its numerous high-starred reviews. Give it a go. I suspect, the humour in here will find a strong audience and will be on a screen near you soon.

Blurb: A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together.

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

Charles Wang is or was a self-made millionaire. He came to America with the American dream and he made it happen. And of course, the financial crisis hits, and he loses everything. Is post-GFC list now a genre?

I digress. This is the story of the Wang family – Charles, Barb, Grace and Andrew – in a car across America to Saina’s place – she’s the eldest daughter, with her own issues. The book focuses on all the characters during this trip as they come to terms or don’t come to terms with the fact that they’re not rich any more.

Charles is a good man, one who loves his children even if he doesn’t love his wives – former and current – very much. He did once, I think, but he is prone to having affairs, so you know, his marriages have not been good ones. His current wife Barb, came to America to be with him, but her love seems to have died as well. His children from his first marriage have kept her at a distance, and through the book she’s the outsider and I couldn’t help wondering why she didn’t leave him.

His children are Grace, Andrew and Saina. At first, they seem like good if self-absorbed children. Saina is the eldest, living in a mortgage-free house, torn between two boyfriends because she’s just that stupid – no, I mean it. I get that in pursuit of a good story, this sort of thing makes sense. She gets taken in by an insufferable and smug ex-fiance, ruins a good relationship for him, and then when the ex-fiance leaves because his current fiancé is having his baby, she’s surprised.

But the situation makes her look genuinely stupid. To me, as the book wore on, I realised I wasn’t sure if Saina loved the ex-fiance at all. How could she be so vapid and empty emotionally? Perhaps, the problem is I never saw them together, and happy, so I couldn’t understand why she would love him. He had douche written all over him, but she was blind to it, and while that’s understandable to an extent – as in when he leaves her for another woman the first time – I still can’t fathom why she’d take him back.

Andrew is marginally tolerable in that he seems to be affected by his father’s behaviour – to an extent, until you know he gets drunk has sex with someone. I was interested in him when I started the book, because he seemed aware of his father’s failings and affairs and self-aware enough to wonder if he was saving his virginity for someone he loved because of it. This was a character I could understand, like even. He wants to have a stand-up comedy career and is entirely bad at it, but I liked him for trying. And then somehow, that kernel of something that made me feel for him got lost in his tantrum to stay with a woman he just met and lost his virginity to, before she kicks him out. So that ended well.

Grace is the youngest and comes across as a Queen B in high school, until her father loses everything and they have to ‘steal’ her laptop and leave school grounds every quickly. There is a smidge of truth to her, underneath the self-absorbed high-schoolness of her, and she and her siblings, when they’re together and they banter, are funny and charming and there’s love there.

The book just doesn’t make me care about them. Not when they have an almost accident and almost lose their lives and Grace calls everyone and tells them she loves them and that’s her reason for a bigger, more permanent change than losing her money. Couldn’t she have changed without the accident?

Saina, who waffles and waffles and waffles between Grayson, the douche and Leo the good guy, until you wonder why is Leo sticking around, until the book makes him hide a secret from her and suddenly, she’s the one wronged and Leo is the one apologising. The secret isn’t bad, her cheating on him was, but suddenly she’s the person being wronged.

Barb really doesn’t have a moment of self-realisation. She’s too insubstantial in the book for me to care what she thinks. Andrew, returning to his family is marginally tolerable again and Charles —  his desire for wealth above all else, or within this book to regain the money he’s lost (sounds a lot better than he’s so desperate to be rich because he doesn’t know how else to be) is somewhat funny and then sad. Perhaps it’s supposed to be? I don’t know. By the end, I just didn’t care any more. 

And that’s how the Wangs faced down the world and we’re supposed to believe they won. Or something. The humour here is funny, and sharply written, but for me, it’s not enough to hide how much the book itself just didn’t make me care about them. 

7 Comments

  • It’s tough when you can’t bring yourself to care about the characters. I’m kind of curiou about the humor though.

    • Verushka says:

      I love the humour, I really did — I wish I could be this snarky and sharp IRL LOL! But, as the work wore on, I realised, the humour was masking a lack of depth for me. Boo. Was really looking forward to this one too.

  • I can tell you were frustrated with the story but it actually reminds me of crazy Rich Asians, which I loved. Thanks for the rec, I’ll have to look this one up!

    • Verushka says:

      You’re right, I was very frustrated because I enjoyed the humour thoroughly… until a point where I realised that’s all there was to the characters. Crazy Rich Asians was one I’ve been thinking about reading. I still want to — it really has got wonderful reviews!

  • Sorry this one didn’t really make you care for the characters. It sounds like a very character-centered novel, so that’s upsetting.

  • Suzanne says:

    Oh, that’s disappointing to hear that you didn’t care about the characters. I had high hopes for this one because it sounded so humorous. I may still give it a try later, but since I typically have to feel a connection to characters in order to appreciate their journey, I don’t know if this book will be for me either. Great review though!

  • I’ve been seeing some mixed reviews about this one! Too bad it didn’t work it out for you even though the humour sounds pretty good. I’ve been debating picking this up but maybe I’ll hold for now.

    Thanks for the review!

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