Published by Harper Teen on January 7, 2020
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 432 •Format: E-Book •Goodreads
When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.
Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?
There are so many things I loved about Loveboat, Taipei. It was like a crazy summer camp book yet set in a breathtaking, international setting with a backdrop of constant, amazing cultural experiences. Yet at the same time, there are some elements that didn’t always sit the best with me personally as a reader. I’m extremely glad I read it (it was a lot of fun!) and am looking forward to the sequel, but there were some elements I personally wish had been handled a bit differently.
Loveboat, Taipei follows Ever Wong, an American-Chinese 18 year old living in Ohio who wants nothing more than to be a dancer but who is chafing against her parent’s constant pressure to pursue medical school. When the pressure ends in an argument between her and her parents, they decide to send her to Taiwan for the summer to study Mandarin and gain a cultural education rather than spending a last summer at home with her friends and dance team. While seemingly a punishment, the program ends up being a wild summer of over-achieving, often wealthy teens who are there to blow off steam, hook up and find themselves without the overbearing expectations from their families.
I found the book to be an addicting and quick read, even though it was a bit long for a YA contemporary. I loved learning about all of the cool classes the program had to offer (Fan Dancing! Cooking! Chinese Medicine!) and reading about the sights the students visited, from the markets to the peaceful parks and gardens to the relaxing spas and saunas. Honestly, Ever’s clubbing shenanigans were some of the things that least interested me because I was so interested in learning and absorbing as much culture as the story had to offer, but alas, Ever was there to blow off some much needed steam so while the story was very interesting, it eventually felt like I had boarded the Bad Decision Express right alongside Ever the conductor.
While Ever eventually grew from her experiences, it just felt like there were a lot of serious things that either happened to her or that she did, and the consequences never really felt like they caught up or applied to her (aside from the constant thread of being sent home from the program). While by the end of the novel Ever seems to have found the right balance of respecting her family and respecting herself, I think that what she went through during Loveboat was almost a little over sensationalized for the degree of fallout she incurred.
There was also a love triangle (that was pretty well done) but it ended rather predictably and I really wish it hadn’t. View Spoiler »I was also uncomfortable with the treatment of Rick’s girlfriend/eventual ex, Jenna. While I do think there was empathy from Ever for her, I felt like there was a lot of emphasis placed on her struggles with mental illness and her codependency on Rick and he basically emotionally cheated on her with Ever and then broke up with her when he was halfway across the world which felt like a cruel thing to do. It’s not an abrupt ending as she comes back into the picture and Rick does eventually find her to seek more help/resources, but it did feel like he was abandoning her a bit. Also, I feel like Ever should have chosen Xavier, I think she was eventually drawn to Rick because he was much more the epitome of what her parents always wanted her to be. Just my two cents, though! « Hide Spoiler
There were a lot of wonderful side characters in this story, from Sophie, Ever’s fiesty and motivated roommate to the group of male classmates who spent their summer taking back stereotypical Asian tropes and stereotypes which was hilarious and also admirable and important. Ever’s Loveboat peers truly did become a second family for her and it was special to see them all come together at the end of the story in a talent show that showcased all of their personalities and also how each had grown over the course of the summer.
Overall: Loveboat, Taipei was a fun and engaging read in an amazingly immersive setting (I think everyone will want to participate in their own Loveboat program after reading the book!) However, many serious topics felt glossed over and it was personally hard for me to read about some of Ever’s poor decision making. Overall an entertaining novel with some great Asian-American representation but not my favorite story. I will however definitely be picking up the sequel!