Normally, I try to write my book reviews the second I’ve shut the book. But it’s been a week since I read Crazy Rich Asians — and the source of my procrastination is, in fact, the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend.
But after seven days, my laziness in has finally reached over-the-top levels. So I’m forcing myself to sit down and write this review, even though what I really want to do is pull up to the Sprouts bulk section, buy enough chocolate pretzels to fill a piñata, and eat my snack while I go to town on China Rich Girlfriend. And then, obviously, repeat the process with Rich People Problems, aka book three.
These types of super-star book series are what I live for. Don’t get me wrong — I always adore a good stand-alone, like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, or the triply-coauthored book My Lady Jane. But there’s something about a book series that really brings back the lost art of using books to go on a journey through your imagination.
Crazy Rich Asians is basically the book equivalent of Keeping Up With the Asian Kardashians. In this book, we get a knee-slappingly hilarious, eye-opening insight into the lives of the crazy rich Singaporeans. For me, there are three levels of liking a book:
“I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t reread it.”
“I loved it, and I’d reread it between one and three times, but only if I could check it out from the library.”
And then there’s the third level of “like”:
“This book was amazing. I shall require two copies, one to mark up, and the other to keep in pristine condition. I’ll also need the special edition and fan memorabilia. If I see a Funko Pop figurine of any characters in this book, I will lose my mind and go so crazy I’ll barely have the composure to click the add to cart button on Amazon. After I purchase my various fandom items, I will arrange them around my copies of this book like a miniature shrine. Visitors to my bedroom should take caution before they bring up the shrine in conversation, because if they do, I will thoroughly explain the majesty of this book, with the addition of select highlighted paragraphs which I will read aloud.”
So, yeah. This book is definitely type three. (So is China Rich Girlfriend. Now you understand why it’s such a devastating ordeal for me to tear myself away from it and write this review for you)
I adored the cast of characters. There were enough characters to fill the maximum occupancy on a small yacht, but Kevin Kwan’s outrageous wit and cunning descriptions make them all both memorable and likable within their first introductory paragraph. Even the ones who aren’t likeable. And by that, I meant the evil ones.
The bad guys in this book are so hateable, my feelings for them basically soared past the stratosphere of “intense dislike” and passed into an alternate realm of “utter obsession.” But before I tell you about them, let me break down the book’s basic plot:
In the opening scene (post-prologue), Nick Young is trying to get his girlfriend Rachel Chu to come with him to Singapore. She’s hesitant, because during the two years she’s dated Nick, he hasn’t once mentioned his parents — or taken her to meet them. “Maybe his parents are poor, and he has to send them money,” says Rachel’s mom in the similarly-scripted movie trailer. Maybe they’re super awkward, and they don’t mesh well with guests. Maybe they’re the epitome of the “dreaded in-laws”.
The real reason Nick keeps his family life under wraps?
They are crazy rich.
After Rachel and Nick fly to Singapore, his family members slowly trickle into the plot. There’s Eddie Cheng, a private banker obsessed with portraying the perfect family life, even though his family is splintering at the seams — and it’s all his fault. (He’s one of the most domineering, compulsive disciplinarians you’ve ever seen. It’s awesome.) There’s Eleanor Young, Nick’s mom, who viciously disapproves of Nick’s choice in a girlfriend, and does everything she can to pull apart his relationship with Rachel by the roots. There’s Astrid Teo, the drop-dead gorgeous wife of Michael Teo. Despite her bottomless bank accounts, she’s uncorrupted by her riches and incredibly down to earth. This is one of the many qualities that made me her adoring fan. If books were like football games, then I’d have a foam hand that said “Rachel, you are AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL and don’t let anyone tell you different”, a second foam hand that said “Astrid is bae”, and just to prove I’m all-in, the Singapore flag would (obviously) be painted on my face. And maybe I’d have one of those electronic hand-fans that says “Eddie Cheng sucks”.
Because he totally does. He and Eleanor are probably the most stuck-up characters in this installation (though even a few of the good guys share materialistic tendencies), and I was totally giggling with joy when each of them made an appearance. Reading about the richie-rich snobbery was its own zone of entertainment. If I was reviewing this book’s Christian virtues for pluggedin.com, I’d probably condemn the behavior of Eddie and the other like-minded Singaporeans as incredibly materialistic, but this is my blog, so I can expound upon the fact that Eddie and Eleanor are the deliciously evil villains you love to loathe.
The funnest part of this book is that you really do feel like a fly on the wall. Kevin Kwan describes every scene as if he witnessed them in real life. The reason that Nick invites Rachel to Singapore is because he wants to take her to his friend Colin’s wedding — which, as it happens, costs somewhere north of $40 million dollars. This kind of sumptuous spending runs rampant through the book, which includes luxury planes with yoga studios, a walk-in closet with cameras that remember what you’ve worn in the past, climate-controlled shelves for keeping leather handbags and suede shoes at optimal storing temperatures, and… I kid you not… a yacht with two swimming pools. Let’s just consider the insanity of that statement. Somebody in this book has a yacht with not one, but two swimming pools, because the owners are so extra they refuse to swim in the saltwater with the commoners. And why have one of anything when you can have TWO? These people shell out money like it’s Monopoly cash, and they own all the properties on the board.
What’s hilarious is that despite all their over-the-top glamour, several of the characters complain when their possessions aren’t good enough. Either the cars aren’t designer enough, the clothing brands aren’t famous enough, or the family inheritances aren’t large enough — across the board, there are so many funny examples of high-level snobbery that you’ll get stitches in your side. A Lamborghini gets called a “pile of cow dung” when compared to an even-more-expensive Astor Martin. A Rolls-Royce-Phantom gets nicknamed a “sardine can” by characters who would rather travel in luxury jets. Honestly, I can’t wait to read pluggedin’s review when the Crazy Rich Asians movie comes out. These types of disputes will probably be listed under the “negative elements” section, along with advice to “talk to your children about materialism.” I’m laughing now just thinking about it.
The book does a fantastic job of revealing the dangers of materialism, especially by spotlighting the book’s three most non-materialistic characters as the clear and obvious heroes (Nick, Rachel, and Astrid). It also throws in some hilarious Singaporean culture lessons. The book comes complete with footnotes translating the few thrown-in bits of Asian slang, including things like “nay chee seen, ah!” (“You’re out of your mind,” Cantonese) and “lu leem ziew, ah?” (“Have you been drinking,” Hokkien). (Autocorrect just had a seizure during the previous sentence, btw)
The one “negative” thing I’ve noticed about this book is that several people have told me they had a hard time getting into it. I tried reading the first three chapters, and then I set the book down for a few days, unconvinced that it lived up to its media hype. Then my mom picked it up, valiantly trudged through the opening chapters, and told me the book was awesome. “Nay chee seen, ah!” I replied. (not really) I returned to the book, and I realized she was totally right:
I couldn’t put it down. It’s like the pages were made of crack cocaine.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time for the spoiler section, for those who have read the book and want to commiserate about its awesome ending.
***YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE SPOILER-FREE ZONE***
***DO NOT CONTINUE UNLESS YOU’VE READ THIS BOOK***
***HERE BE SPOILERS***
***ABANDON HOPE FOR DISCOVERING THE ENDING OF YOUR OWN ACCORD, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE***
First off: I absolutely loved how Eleanor obsessed over Nick’s girlfriend, all the way up to hiring a team of private investigators to bring back intel. Memorable quote #0051: when Eleanor and Rachel meet.
“Oh, hello,” Eleanor said, as if she had no idea who the girl might be. So this is the girl. She looks better than in that school yearbook picture obtained by the detective.”
I COULD NOT EVEN.
And I loved how the end of the book is virtually a slideshow of plot twists. Once you hit the chapter where Mandy shows up right before Nick announces his intentions to marry Rachel, the book becomes a plot-twist pretzel. The book has a record-setting level of cliffhangers. The only other media I’m currently consuming that compares to Kevin Kwan’s level of suspense-wielding mastery is Poldark, a BBC television show you should definitely check out. (All you need to know about Poldark is the following scene. Picture me, my mom, my sister, and two of our family friends, all clustered around the TV and watching the most recent episode unfold. A plot twist erupts. Everybody shouts “OHHHHHH” and starts laughing like madwomen.) After Mandy shows up, the twists keep on stacking: Eddie’s wife stands up to him; Astrid reunites with Charlie; Francesca and Mandy break Rachel’s last straw by telling her about their previous threesome with Nick; we get a flashback of Astrid’s life with Charlie; Nick whisks Rachel away from the madness after finally hearing about her distress; Nick confronts his mother about her mistreatment of Rachel while Eleanor privately schemes to cut off the relationship once and for all; Astrid locates Michael to settle their argument about his affair; Nick’s mother ruins his proposal by announcing that Rachel’s father is alive; and Michael tells Astrid that he never had an affair in the first place. I could go on and on.
Overall, Crazy Rich Asians is the perfect cautionary tale for the materialistic soul — and oftentimes, that includes me. (But if buying ALL THE CRAZY-RICH-ASIANS MERCHANDISE EVER counts as materialism, well, that just can’t be helped. *winks*)