Loveboat, Taipei (HarperCollins International)
by Abigail Hing Wen
Release Date : January 7, 2020
Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, and praised as “an intense rush of rebellion and romance” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Garber, this romantic and layered Own Voices debut from Abigail Hing Wen is a dazzling, fun-filled romp.
“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zerosupervision.”
And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turn. Gone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.
But not every student is quite what they seem:
Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance.
Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret.
Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye.
And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.
When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.
Author Bio : Abigail Hing Wen is a Silicon Valley venture lawyer working with AI startups. She is a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate, Wild Things blogger, and YA writer of her debut, Loveboat, Taipei.
(Spoiler-Free) I was excited to jump into Loveboat, Taipei as it has all the makings of a fun contemporary with detailed character development and an underexplored setting within this genre. I was not disappointed. First, the writing style- the descriptions are punchy and flavorful, with word choices that go far in illustrating both the setting and the feelings of the characters. Being an #ownvoices novel, there is a definite authentic feel and moreover, a cast of characters that are convincing and multi-dimensional.
The central character, Ever, has protective and demanding parents who are not supportive toward her passion for dance. She’s caught between a lifetime of pleasing them and living a pretty rigid lifestyle to suddenly being able to let loose and do anything she wants after traveling to Taipei on the loveboat study tour.
She’s a bit of a stiff character but understandably so, her motivations were well-explained and I could relate a lot to her inner conflicts. While this is often a breezy contemporary with an emphasis on fun moments during the first half, some romance, and exploring the nightlife of Taipei- there are several small moments of deeper insight. It gets more harrowing later on, focusing on more serious topics. The tonal shifts are handled well.
I also liked seeing the friendship between Ever and Sophia. My first impressions of these two is that they’re linked by similar experiences, but are almost opposites in terms of personality. Sophia is vivacious and eager for romance, and Ever comes off a bit more quiet and naive by comparison. These first impressions become more nuanced midway through the book as we learn more revealing details.
Rick (aka Boy Wonder) and Ever have a sort of low key enemies-to-lovers thing going on. Without delving too far, I do want to say that the approach to their friendship and the will-they-or-won’t-they relationship really stood out to me in an intriguing way. She dislikes him for being almost obnoxiously perfect. Her family has extolled his virtues for years on end. Their vibe is a sort of childhood competitiveness that continued to grow through to their early adulthood. That mindset gradually evolves, transforming during the trip, creating a quirky dynamic between the two.
I really like how there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to these characters and the Taipei trip results in each one stepping out of their comfort zone and finding themselves in different ways. The characters are already pretty mature but definitely have room to grow. At 430+ pages this felt like a bulky read, but the longevity was largely justified. Very glad to have had the opportunity to read this book and it’s a strong start overall. Definitely would consider reading a sequel, though I think it would be best approached with a fresh new cast while keeping to the Loveboat theme/setting.
Overall Rating – 9/10
Why You Should Try It – Smartly written and provides depth to its central cast, while having several other side characters. Keenly focused on relationships and well-paced, fun moments, yet deep enough to avoid superficiality. There are several thought-provoking passages and more serious moments. The characterization is mature yet convincing. There aren’t many bulky/lengthy contemporaries, I think this one makes meaningful use of its page count.
Why You Might Not Like It – Great choice if you’re in the mood for a down-to-earth contemporary, but I don’t think it will change minds if you’re not. I did feel like Taipei as a setting, while often gorgeously described, had a minor presence overall. Some of the characters (Ever in particular, who has spent her life in Ohio) seem like they ought to have a bit more culture shock or a more impacted sense of wonder at traveling to a new country.
Disclosure : I received an e-ARC of Loveboat, Taipei for my involvement in this blog tour. #LoveboatTaipeiBlogTour
Are you interested in reading Loveboat, Taipei or have already read it? Always happy to hear your thoughts and thanks for checking out this blog tour. ~ Kitty