Review for “Pizza Girl” by Jean Kyong Frazier (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The unnamed narrator of this novel is 18 years old and unexpectedly pregnant, living with her boyfriend and mother and working at a local pizza parlor. Very early on its apparent that although her mom and boyfriend are overjoyed about the new baby, she is not. The narrator is depressed and extremely unhappy, drinking in her spare time and consumed with memories of her now-deceased alcoholic father. It is at the pizza parlor where she meets Jenny, a mother who calls in with an unusual order. For the rest of the novel, Jenny becomes the singular obsession of the narrator, occupying her thoughts, motivations, and desires.
Although this book falls along the lines of a dark comedy, it’s a tough read. While the narrator’s observations of life and the people around her are funny, she makes some very poor choices here, some of which I found irredeemable. I mean, let’s face it, no matter how many ha-ha’s there are, watching to the narrator getting wasted while pregnant is simply awful. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is some kind of cautionary tale here, with the tragic life of the narrator at the center. Sadly, it’s a fascinating train wreck that you can’t look away from.
And another thing…the narrator is Korean American, a fact that’s alluded to several times in the book. However, there’s very little commentary on how her racial identity fits in with the text. This is interesting, because there’s mention of how her Korean mother was attracted to the “Americanness” of her father (who, in this case, turned out to be an abusive drunk). The “Americanness” of Jenny (blonde, white, slender and traditionally ‘beautiful’) also plays a role in the narrator’s fixation on her. While I’m not saying that every book with non-White characters has to have specific racial commentary, I am wondering why more wasn’t said about it here. It certainly would have added some depth to the story, nahmean?
Four stars. Definitely recommended.