Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen

This book is funny & intelligent, & that is my favorite combination of adjective I can possibly want in a YA fiction book.

Mona is a second generation Chinese American middle schooler living in 70’s suburbia. The novel explores her journey into womanhood as she navigates race, religion, & puberty. The novel can also technically be viewed as a sequel to Typical American, although it was published earlier, it follows the same family.

In Mona in the Promised Land Gish Jen explores ethnic identity through the character Mona and her family. Mona’s family is constructed to question what it means for Mona to be a Chinese American. I can go College on you guys & talk about Mona’s rejection of the model minority figure or her challenge to racial fluidity, but I’ll spare you.

The parts I really loved about this novel were first, the humor. Mona is funny. Not just funny situations that she gets herself in, but the way she handles them. Her responses to the other characters are sarcastic at times, & cheeky, but often smart. She’s a lovable character, rebellious & curious. It was easy to become invested in her character arc.

The situations are funny as well though. Her family owns & operates a pancake house. She converts to Judaism. She has a relationship with a boy who lives in a tent outside his parents’ house. She invites the staff of her family’s restaurant to camp out in her best friend’s giant house. She doesn’t quite know what she’s doing half the time, but she does it with conviction.

The other parts I loved were the ones involving her family, especially her mother. I’ve said before that I love mother-daughter relationships in stories. No spoilers, but the novel ends with a wedding. Like most novels, the wedding could’ve been cliche & sappy, but I think the real love story lies with the bond between Mona & her mother by the end.

I think this novel not only examines what it means to be a second generation American, but also what it means to be an American in general. It also provides navigation through life as a child or teenager in a world where other kids may not always understand you. I definitely recommend this book to both younger & older readers.

“She feels as though she stands at the pointy start of time. Behind her, no history.

Before her—everything. How arrogant! As if you have no mother! As if you came

out of thin air! She can hear Helen’s voice. Still Mona feels it—something

opening within herself, big as the train station, streaming with sappy light.”

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