Want by Cindy Pon – 4.5/5 stars | Review cross-posted on Goodreads
I loved this book. I feel like the only way to do my GR review justice is to just copy/paste it here too and add a bit more so here we go.
* For people looking for good Asian rep in YA because I’m tired of people saying books with bad stereotypes from the eyes of Westerners are “good” rep for us ughhh. I suggest you to read this instead because Cindy Pon knows what my heart wants and she delivered and now my heart is three sizes too big and I have cardiomegaly.
**Spoiler-filled review below.
Words can’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this. I’ll only take off 0.5 star for Victor dying (“dying” – we didn’t see a body so maybe not 100% confirmed I’m still latching onto hope) and the romance/lustmance wasn’t done to its full potential but I can overlook that because the rest is just that good.
Characters – I could talk at length about them all, but I’ll just say that Victor was my favorite and Daiyu was a close second and possibly would have been 1st if this were from her perspective.
I was right about Daiyu in the end I knew she’d be best girl and supsicious plotting princess. Again my wishful thinking wants Victor to be alive and so all six of kids can form the complete squad but alas. She was my second favorite after Victor and smart and amazing love interest. Now that I know there’s going to be a sequel, I can’t wait to see what Daiyu does next. She’s unstoppable.
Jason is such a good boy… and by that I mean he tattoos his mom’s favorite flower on his chest. I didn’t expect to like Jason at all from the first chapter (because god I was afraid he would be another Kaz Brekker type, but Jason’s better hands down, bye), but he grew on me. He wasn’t portrayed as this ruthless person who was filled with resentment and hatred for the ultra rich. He understood what he was getting into considered the dangers his mission would pose to both the meis and the yous (the have-nots and the haves, respectively). He was somewhat introspective about it and despite being influenced by his resentment, his anger didn’t blind him to the consequences of his actions.
THIS IS GOOD. Why? Because we see someone who does give into the anger and resentment of the shit thrown at them and abandons their fellow man on the street to die (the random mei girl who just tells Jason to let the sick man die instead of calling an ambulance). Jason doesn’t do that. He explicitly chooses to stay and call the ambulance for this man despite jepordizing his own health and mission. This is why he’s a good boy despite looking like an edgy knife-boy pretending to be rich because that’s the mission. He cares about the big picture and fellow man and thus he is a good boy.
Back to Daiyu – I love her so much. I’ve seen reviews say that she’s too perfect, but she’s filthy fuckin’ rich… so of course she has the resources and time to be ultra educated and have fancy hobbies. Additionally since she’s the heir to Jin’s corporation, she does have to maintain a certain image because her image is tied to the company’s. She has to be somewhat distant and hold others at an arm’s length because of her position in society. The real Daiyu is obviously not what she seems (in Jason’s view she’s a spoiled you girl like every other you girl) given this set up.
She grows up watching her dad choosing to be shady and she herself chooses to be suspicious and non-complicit with his BS in the end. In fact, she makes snide, off-handed remarks about her dad in front of Jason because of how he treated her mother. Another detail is that her dad forced her to give away her dog Mochi, her only companion and a gift from her mom, when her parents split. From this we can already tell she will potentially break off from her father and go against him.
The filial piety towards moms in this book is so strong I love it. In the end you could argue that Jason’s and Daiyu’s love for their moms really helped them see the truth and without that they wouldn’t be where they are.
Daiyu is a neaky rule breaking princess forwarding her agenda with soft power and hella smart and strong. I honestly wish we had more E. Asian female rep like this because other people get us Sooooooooo Wrong in Western media; she’s not just the girl the protagonist wants to date, though we’re sorta led to believe it until near the end. Daiyu’s character reveal smashes that innocent pure beautiful girl vibe (which she uses as a facade), but since the narrative follows Jason’s perspective, most of the time we see Daiyu with facade she is trying to sell to the public, though both she and Jason slip up on their acts sometimes. God, I love her.
IN ADDITION TO DAIYU, there are more powerful and respected ladies: Lingyi, Iris, and Dr. Nataraj. Lingyi is the boss. Hands down. She is THE boss and operates the missions, team Mom and a heartbreaking hacker. I kind of imagine Iris to be like an asian platinum blonde Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine Nine. She’s a strong, silent type and even has the acrobat/gymnastics ability going for her and also she has a cute GF.
Lastly, Dr. Nataraj RIP. I wish the whole family could be together but unfortunately it’s not anymore. She’s a scientist trying to make policy changes regarding the environment and pollution in the world and also Arun’s mom. The love for moms in this book is too powerful because Arun also wouldn’t be where he is without his momma. On top of being a scientist with a mission and Arun’s mom, she also takes the squad under her wing and feeds them (dat Asian solidarity!). I wish we could have seen more of Arun outside the lab. He was awesome and saved them all, but I feel like he was the character in the squad that felt the least distinct. Maybe in the sequel!!
And… Victor: please let him be alive. I don’t really want to draw the comparison to six of crows to this book buttttt it’s like they split Kaz into Victor and Jason but Victor and Jason are actually likeable, treat their friends right, willing to do what it takes for the mission, look out for not only their squad but also society in large and do not let their trauma and hatred for the Yous blind them. Victor acts like he doesn’t care but he CARES™ and everyone knows it. I really liked that he was very much the big brother who wanted to act cool and was cool and was like “oh, it’s nothing *hair flip*” when it was EVERYTHING.
World – those themes
I’m not Taiwanese and I haven’t been to Taiwan (one day, tho) but I can tell Cindy Pon knows her stuff. I loved catching all the references to Chinese literature and culture e.g. Qingming jie and lunar new year, the food, 8 = lucky number, aiyo, etc. *shakes* AIYOoooo.
Even the inequality btw the ultra rich and poor is touched upon (also grass soup, bits about Chinese diaspora) and I couldn’t help but think about how the generational divide between me and Chinese kids in asia (as I am 1 generation removed from the mother culture) and how some of them (like the ultra, ultra rich kids) spend money like it’s water and here I am clipping coupons on my couch. I know the book wasn’t talking about that specifically, but I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to my life. This is just that kind of book for me. Even issues that aren’t explicitly mentioned end up in my mind because Want is about reconnecting to the world. Not to mention I recently saw Black Panther (which was amazing too, I encourage y’all to go see it if you can!), which also explored themes on how to connect to the world. WANT is to me what Black Panther is to a lot of people.
Going back to the rich, they close themselves off from the rest of the world by donning on these suits that protect them from pollution, but it also closes them off from the human suffering of the less fortunate. The suits creating a physical later of separation for the Yous also doubles as their detachment from the real world and issues that they should be concerned about as citizens of the world e.g. POLLUTION AND DISEASE.
In this way, the suits function as the rich, ruling class’s personal bubble. They can afford to ignore problems that literally affect everyone else because they feel superior and invicible and Jin exploits both the You’s self-invented prestige and ego + the Mei’s desperation and idolization of the You glam life financially to the nth degree. But once that degree of separation is broken past by the super-virulent flu virus that Jin of course created and the You’s are just as or even more susceptible (because they’ve never been introduced to such dirty conditions or the type of strain the flu virus is, hello my immunology degree) to the sickness they attributed the the poor pathetic Meis they despised so much and suddently they’re on the same level. AND for more symbolism, Daiyu’s senior project and basically her political campaign shows that the Yous are taking steps to be part of the earth again.
Jason also gets to see how the other side lives, which I thought was interesting because he is very up front about his resentment towards the rich while he narrates, but as he continues his ruse he starts becoming Jason Zhou (his English name is Jason, but no one really calls him only his mother). He might talk shit about how good the Yous have it and how they don’t appreciate it and are wasteful, but he becomes comfortable with having a nice apartment and the good life as he spends more time with Daiyu as part of the mission. He really isnt against having a “good” life with good living conditions, he has more of a problem with the narrow worldview many Yous have – they only look out for themselves once they got it good instead of using their influence to change policies. Wongwong (I forget his full name) and Daiyu are the only Yous we initially see give a rat’s ass about the Meis. This is the point where I knew Jason would definitely not blow up a building while everyone is still inside because – it’s not about punishing the Yous and putting them through the same suffering they had Meis go through, it’s about changing society for the benefit of both meis and yous.
I love these characters and I’m so glad they aren’t myopic lil shits that only care about themselves… (single tear).
On a technical level, I don’t have any big complaints about the writing. The themes were AMAZING, though, as I wrote about in detail above.
I’ll nitpick there were some britishisms that felt out of place. Since Jason is the narrator, you’d think it would be consistently in american english but there was one instance of “arse” being used instead of ass? It’s a minor detail, so whatever.
In the beginning I thought it was odd to make nouns out of “mei” and “you,” but then again it was so integrated into the story, I didn’t care as I progressed. Jason talks about breasts a lot. Maybe at least once per chapter? Again, it’s a minor thing. Maybe he’s a tits over ass kind of guy.
All these are nitpicks. This book was an experience I won’t forget.
I’m lucky enough to have read this throughout Chinese New Year weekend and it was such good timing : D I really want a copy of this now. I can’t recommend Want enough.