The Life of a Banana by PP Wong

The Life of a BananaReceived an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

“But then it gets weird ‘cos I’m neither here nor there.  Like I’m not totally white and I’m not Singaporean either.  I love Sunday roasts and Chinese food too, but I can’t speak fluent Chinese and the only Chinese word I can write is my name.”

There are good books, there are very good books and then there are the sort of books for which you have an all-consuming love for, that resonates with you so much you feel like it was written for you, whose characters you feel like you know.

PP Wong’s The Life Of A Banana is one of those books.

The book is about a young orphan, Xing Li and the struggles she goes through growing up as a British born Chinese in the UK. Throughout the book you meet an assortment of characters from Xing Li’s mad uncle, stern Grandma, rebel brother, best friend Jay, and of course the class bully Shills.  Whilst you may not like all of them, they are startlingly real and vivid, and you feel like you know them, or someone like them (who hasn’t met a Shills in their life?).

As a Eurasian (half Chinese/half Caucasian) growing up in London, there was so much I could relate to in this book:

  • The fact that when people ask you where you are from and you say London they respond with “no, where are you REALLY from?”.  Sadly, I got this the most from my university peers when you would really think they were old enough and educated enough not to judge a book by its cover.
  • The fact that because you look Chinese, they expect you to speak the language.
  • The racial abuse at school (don’t get me wrong, nothing like having words carved into my leg or being beaten up)

And then there’s all the little quirks I’ve inherited from my Mum and her sisters:

  • “Aiyah!”
  • Never taking the plastic wrap off of electronic items
  • Always carrying a spare plastic bag with you
  • Wary of hugging

“With Chinese, they offer you to come for dinner after first meeting.  With English takes many years before you get past “How is the weather?” conversations.”

And then there’s the more British things that are familiar like the fact I may have consumed a frozen cheesecake from Iceland a time or two in my life!

Anyway enough of me and let’s move onto how much I love Jay.  I wish I had a Jay in life!  Xing Li/Jay’s friendship is one of my (many) favourite things about the book and I melted at the end when he and his parents got back Meow Meow and the tortoise for Xing Li, and also of course the sweet kiss between them.

Uncle Ho – what a strange and yet tragic figure.  You never really feel like you know what exactly happened with him and that’s all part of the intrigue.

Grandma ….. what can I say.  She’s not exactly a character you warm to but the final scene of the book?  Really touching.

Auntie Mei and Lai Ker are products of their upbringing and the friendships they keep.

There are so many different layers to all the characters you meet.  Just as you think you’ve figured out Grandma, Grandfather (who you meet briefly) or even Xing Li herself, something more is revealed that peels back another layer to the characters.

I loved the way the book is written from Xing Li’s point of view, using her British/Chinese ‘talk’ which is so vivid you can hear it being spoken through the page.  Combined with the content, the book really feels like you’re reading an autobiography and getting to see what it is really like to grow up as a non-white person in the UK.

I know we are barely halfway through the year but I’m calling it: best book of 2014.

“I’m a Chinese person with a mouth, but I’m a Chinese person with a heart too.”

Book: 5*

Cover: 5*

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