Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao
Seventeen-year-old Ali Chu knows that as the only Asian person at her school in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, she must be bland as white toast to survive. This means swapping her congee lunch for PB&Js, ignoring the clueless racism from her classmates and teachers, and keeping her mouth shut when people wrongly call her Allie instead of her actual name, pronounced Āh-lěe, after the mountain in Taiwan.
Her autopilot existence is disrupted when she finds out that Chase Yu, the new kid in school, is also Taiwanese. Despite some initial resistance due to the “they belong together” whispers, Ali and Chase soon spark a chemistry rooted in competitive martial arts, joking in two languages, and, most importantly, pushing back against the discrimination they face.
But when Ali’s mom finds out about the relationship, she forces Ali to end it. As Ali covertly digs into the why behind her mother’s disapproval, she uncovers secrets about her family and Chase that force her to question everything she thought she knew about life, love, and her unknowable future.
Initially, Our Wayward Fate caught my eye because I’d heard a lot about Gloria Chao’s debut, American Panda, and though I hadn’t read it I’m always excited to see new books from Chinese authors. Honestly, I was expecting a typical contemporary romance from Our Wayward Fate. What I got was an exploration of being the children of immigrants and reconnecting to your culture intertwined with the cute romance.
Ali is a really fun protagonist; she’s very sarcastic without being overly sullen about it, mostly because a lot of her standoffishness is to cope with being the only Chinese person in a small town and the racism she experiences from her friends and classmates. I’ve never experienced the kind of racism that Ali does, but I’ve definitely had similar experiences, and I could really relate to pushing away my culture so I could fit in with my white classmates.
So the main conflict in the book is between Ali and her immigrant parents who want the best for her while pushing her away from her boyfriend, Chase Yu, the other Taiwanese kid who moves to the town early on in the book. Even though he helps Ali reconnect with her Taiwanese identity, the politics within the Taiwanese immigrant community–and especially Ali’s parents–keep them apart. Usually, I’m not really a fan of the forbidden romance trope, especially when it’s heterosexual, but the one between Ali and Chase rang true to me. I did find the beginning of their relationship wasn’t really developed well, but they did have a lot of chemistry towards the end of the book.
I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of Chao’s writing. It read as overly rambly and somewhat immature to me, but there were a lot of funny and introspective moments; the last quarter or so of the book is really strong, and if the whole book was similar I think I would have enjoyed the writing more. One of the narrative choices I really liked was Chao’s decision to leave most of the Mandarin used in the story untranslated, which made the dialogue more immersive. Ali’s story is intertwined with the folk tale of the Butterfly Lovers, which I’d honestly never heard about before this book, but is a very well-known folk tale in China.
Despite some of the problems I had with the romance and writing, I quite enjoyed Our Wayward Fate and found I could relate to a lot of Ali’s experiences as a Chinese person. I definitely recommend this for those who are searching for diverse contemporary romance books that will make you think.
representation | chinese main characters, gay side character
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy.
have you read any of gloria chao’s books?