Review: Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Bitter Melon by Cara ChowBitter Melon by Cara Chow
Published by Egmont USA on 2010-12-28
Genres: Asian American, Family, People & Places, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

Frances, a Chinese-American student at an academically competitive school in San Francisco, has always had it drilled into her to be obedient to her mother and to be a straight-A student so that she can go to Med school. But is being a doctor what she wants? It has never even occurred to Frances to question her own feelings and desires until she accidentally winds up in speech class and finds herself with a hidden talent. Does she dare to challenge the mother who has sacrificed everything for her? Set in the 1980s.

With all the hullabaloo surrounding Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it seems Bitter Melon by Cara Chow is perfectly poised to capitalize on the hype surrounding ‘tiger mothers.’ However, I think Bitter Melon stands well on it’s own merits.

Frances, a high school senior, has spent her whole life following orders from her domineering mother out of a sense of duty much like filial piety. When a schedule mix-up has Frances in a speech class instead of calculus, Frances finds that perhaps her mother’s plan isn’t the right path for her to go down.

I found Bitter Melon to be a complex and fascinating look at the relationship between a parent and a child. No relationship is black and white. This book shows those shades of gray. On one hand Frances’s mother is self-sacrificing. On the other hand she’s borderline abusive, slinging emotional abuse like mud. It’s hard to come to a definitive conclusion on her mother, as hard as it would be for me to come to one about my parents. You can’t always boil people down to one word.

I thought Frances went through a huge amount of growth. Reading this book was like watching someone grow a back bone, seriously. My heart broke with hers at certain incidents. I mean, some parts are pretty hard to read. You just want the conversation to be different, but obviously the reader can’t change the words on the page. And you know, I like the Frances learns to let people in. I like that she finds true friendship. I like that there’s some moral ambiguity. I like that we can’t come to a definitive conclusion about her relationship with her mother.

In all, Bitter Melon is a strong contemporary read. I am looking forward to more from Cara Chow.

Other Reviews of Bitter Melon by Cara Chow:

A Patchwork of Books

Sophistikatied Reviews

Reading In Color

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. This one of the first positive reviews I’ve seen for Bitter Melon. It’s one of the reason I love book blogging–so many different opinions.

  2. This sounds like a book I would enjoy – thanks for the review!
    Sheila (Bookjourney) recently posted..The Secret Life Of Emily Dickinson by Jerome CharynMy Profile

  3. Great review April! I don’t think I’ve heard of this one before, but it definitely sounds like the kind of book I love, and especially the type of book I’m looking for right now!
    Ashley recently posted..The Bigs Games On- Read-a-Thon!!My Profile

  4. Sounds great and I like how you said your heart broke with her. Writing that affects us like that is special.

    Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust
    twitter: @fangswandsfairy


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