Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Fold by An Na

Joyce never used to care that much about how she looked, but that was before she met JFK—John Ford Kang, the most gorgeous guy in school. And it doesn’t help that she’s constantly being compared to her beautiful older sister, Helen. Then her rich plastic-surgery-addict aunt offers Joyce a gift to “fix” a part of herself she’d never realized needed fixing—her eyes. Joyce has heard of the fold surgery—a common procedure meant to make Asian women’s eyes seem “prettier” and more “American”—but she’s not sure she wants to go through with it. Her friend Gina can’t believe she isn’t thrilled. After all, the plastic surgeon has shown Joyce that her new eyes will make her look just like Helen—but is that necessarily a good thing?


This book's premise is amazing, because it's a matter typically not discussed outside Asian families. I'm always up for a good YA cultural tales (like, hence, my love for Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta). Part of me has always been curious as to what Asians thought of their different looks (their eyes, in particular) in contrast with Americans. I imagined it would be something that either didn't bother them too much, or if it did, it was only a small bother. In fact, I never even heard of this fold surgery, so I really didn't even know the magnitude of the Asian eyes vanity, with ample surgeries going left and right trying to "correct it". For raising awareness to this topic, this book deserves an A+.


I didn't love this novel. Why? Joyce didn't compel me. I'll be the first to say this was an important story to be told (read my paragraph above), but the overall execution didn't do anything for me. More often than not, I was bored with Joyce's voice. The central issue in her life is this prospective plastic surgery, and while she's off obsessing about it, we've got so many more interesting characters making appearances worthy of further notice. Examples I can think of:

Joyce's older, more beautiful sister, Helen, is the "perfect daughter". She's got a lot built up inside of her, which is all but screamed at Joyce, but almost none of it is ever explored. Helen, despite always being pressured to do better every time, has an amazing, complex, and mature outlook. I would've read an entire book about her if given the chance.

Gina, the best friend. Here's a girl so sure of what she wants, but who has to work extra hard for it because of her family's financial problems. She works and has to keep her grades in tip-top shape at all times in order to get into college. Aside from all this, she's no more than a secondary character in the entire novel whose only purpose is to aide Joyce in the life-or-death situation that making up her mind about this surgery seems to be.

Gomo, the aunt who offered to pay for the plastic surgery. Far from perfect, but she's always got the best intentions at heart. During the brief point in the book where we're allowed to look into her past, we can see she's got so much compelling history, it's a wonder it didn't pop up more.

And those are only off the top of my head. It would've been easy to implement those characters' stories in with this novel's third-person narrative, but for some reason, all we get is Joyce. I wish she'd realized some time or another that the reason she's so insecure is because she spends interminable amounts of time overanalyzing her every facet. No plastic surgery is going to fix that. The conclusion I came to after reading about is, what this girl really needs is a hobby. Time away from her thoughts and a mirror.

The ending was a little forced, but I liked it. I think she chose what she did for the right reasons and maybe it's a step in the right direction for her. Perhaps she can grow from it.

I am giving this a C because I judged it as an important book, and for that purpose, it fell short. It's a highly readable novel, but it didn't stir me nearly enough as it should've or make as big a point as I was expecting. Maybe it's good for entertainment. I'm afraid I'll never know, because I started it expecting something groundbreaking. But maybe.


ambeen said...

Interesting concept for a novel. I suppose it is relevant in today's world of quick fixes with surgery, but it doesn't sound like something I would read. I would rather read a novel about a girl trying to find peace with herself without having to consider any quick fix options along the way. That's just me, though. :P

Lenore said...

I had an asian friend who considered doing this, but instead she had eyeliner tattoed on!

Becky said...

You might enjoy Good Enough by Paula Yoo.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely an issue that a lot (although, not all) of Asians are concerned with. As always, they want to look "whiter", perfect eyelids (I mean, freakin' hell ... eyelids, but yes, its important), etc. To be honest, I'm not surprised that she obsessed over it. It's sort of a concept that other people might not understand, and just take to be another form of cosmetic surgery, which it is, but I think there's a lot of cultural pressure around it for some people. Good review by the way!

Khyrinthia said...

Yea, this book wasn't too great. I read it and it was kind of...blah. Nothing was that special about it.

Reviewer X said...

Ambeen -- I see what you mean, but...hmm, I don't know. Plastic surgery doesn't strike me as the "quick fix" in this case. Joyce was torn, so it was anything but quick. Like I said: she could really use a hobby.

Lenore -- I use eyeliner on a regular basis but I would never tattoo it on. Seems too impractical -- what if you don't wanna wear it one day? Ai >.<

Becky -- thanks for the suggestion! People told me that book is amazing--it's definitely on my wishlist now.

Anon -- I just really never knew. It never occurred to me. It seem so obvious now -- it's for the same reason that women change their bodies every day, to do all those augmentation surgeries in certain curvaceous areas :P

Khyrinthia -- I was excited to read it cos An Na is a Printz award winner. Like I said, I was expecting this to be very eye-opening and good. It was too ordinary for its subject matter, IMO. Writing was good -- just not enough.


ambeen said...

Yeah, I realize it wasn't a quick decision, but it would be a quick fix for the pressure she felt to be more white.

I don't know, I can understand why people have surgery to change things, but this seems over-the-top to me. I've heard about it before this and I just think it's bordering Michael Jackson craziness in trying to change your race.

Liviania said...

I'm going to review this book soon on my blog. I enjoyed it more than you did, but I can see what you mean about the supporting cast being more interesting.

Post a Comment

Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph