Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
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?
Before Loveboat, Taipei, contemporary wasn’t my thing. Now, I’ve changed my mind.
There’s no demonstration of the power of a good book quite like convincing a stubborn reader to leave their genres of choice. For me, fantasy is my home, and contemporary is a different world entirely. I hesitate to branch out for fear of disappointment, and that meant going into Loveboat, Taipei with some skepticism.
But I came out the other side feeling like it was worth every moment. No DNFing, no wondering if the book was right for me. Just sheer delight from finding a book that was fun and immersive and unlike anything I’d expected. In the future, I don’t think I’ll be so hesitant to try contemporaries. And I know for sure that I want to read more books in the Loveboat, Taipei series! Goodreads is marking it as the first in a series, and I certainly hope that’s true…
Loveboat, Taipei draws its strength from its characters.
From the start, I found myself invested in the characters. Ever alone had me completely sold. She’s so committed to dance, willing to take risks to pursue her passion, and every time she finds herself pushed away from it, my heart aches for her. You can tell that she adores it, while she feels nothing but dread for the medical path that her parents have already arranged for her. She’s caught between doing what she loves, and proving to her parents that the sacrifices they’ve made for her have been worth it, and it’s a difficult line to walk for so many reasons.
Plus, I appreciated that she got in trouble and made some reckless decisions. She’s a sheltered teenager with a chance to explore the world in a different way, with help from other kids her age who have more experience in sneaking out, dating, and generally rebelling against the expectations on their shoulders. If she hadn’t taken the risks she did, we would have had an unchanged character by the end of the book, and nothing more.
As for the side characters, they too presented fantastic additions to the story. Rick is an apparently perfect student, Yale-bound and a prodigy in every way. Ever’s spent her whole life withering as her parents compared her to Rick, and now he’s right there. And while I didn’t care for him at first, I came to appreciate everything he was trying to balance, and how hard it was to do so.
On the other end of the love triangle, you have Xavier. While he is the local bad boy, he also leads into some conversations about mental health and family, and their intersection with being Chinese-American. I was so relieved to find he had more depth than the average bad boy LI. Plus, I liked where his character ended up! It felt like a positive, incredibly fitting place for him to be.
And last, we have Sophie, who moves like a whirlwind and thinks just as fast. She serves as Ever’s guide and friend, but like Ever, makes her own questionable choices. I liked her because she knew what she wanted, even if she couldn’t get it. That, and she interfaces a lot with the pressure from her family to marry well despite her strong personality. Though far from a perfect person, she’s interesting, and I felt for her.
“I have to believe there’s an order to this universe, even if we can’t see it, and that its fundamental design is good.”
Another thing Loveboat, Taipei does well is lean positive. Since this is a contemporary romance, the goal is to find an HEA, or at least a HFN. As a result, even the worst acts of the novel resolve in ways that angle towards a better future. On the one hand, it means that the revenge porn plot and the fact that one character actively cheats on his girlfriend are forgiven with relative ease. On the other hand, this is not a book about getting revenge or justice or what have you. It’s a book about finding yourself and your passions, and understanding how to fit your truest sense of self in against the expectations others hold. It’s also a book about making the best of a situation that’s less than ideal.
And in the process of exploring all this, it made me cry. Once for Mei-Hwa and her family, and again for Ever and her family. Not everything is perfect. Not everything can resolve with total smoothness. But the characters try to do the right thing for themselves and for their loved ones. It’s a difficult balancing act in real life, which is why it brought me to tears on the page.
Overall, I’ve fallen in love with Loveboat, Taipei.
I never dreamed my first real foray into contemporary would go so well, but it has! I’m actually sad I had to return it to the library. Couldn’t I just keep it instead? Please?
I suppose this means I just have to purchase my own copy, which isn’t so bad at all.
Really, though. I’ll be adding this one to my shelves as soon as possible. Between the characters with so much heart, and the earnest navigation of conflicting cultural expectations, Loveboat, Taipei pulled me in in the blink of an eye and refused to let go. It’s lively, it’s thoughtful, and there’s a streak of hope throughout that’s captured my heart.
And if you don’t believe me, check out these OwnVoices reviews from Tiffany and Kelsea! They talk about what the Chinese-American rep meant for them, and what parts of the book made it such a stellar read.
CW: loss of a loved one, suicide, animal death, drinking, nudity, leaked nudes, child abuse, implied abusive relationships, racism, sex scene