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?
Oh, fiddlesticks…the wtf topics keep occurring over at Top Ten Tuesday, so I’m making my own today. Since I did nonfiction last week, I’ll delve into fiction today. Here goes:
Top Ten Pet Peeves in Fiction
The “woman of stone.” I love kick-ass women characters, but sometimes, in the pursuit of the ultimate bad-ass gal, the author will create a woman character so devoid of emotion that she is, in many ways, psychologically a man. Just the trophe the writer seeks to avoid by making the character a woman. I think it is ok to make women characters that do kick ass and take the time to do other things, like pause and cry, for instance. Nothing wrong with that.
Atypical boys = homosexuality. I love quirk, but all too often quirk (lack of sports interest, nerdiness, awkwardness around girls, etc) in male characters is imagined as a gay character. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have an issue with the perception that there is only one way to be a straight boy, and anything beyond an interest in sports and chasing girls means he must be gay. I find this a lot in YA. Ugh…stop it.
Contrived diversity/tokenism. Of course in the whitest of all White settings, the main character manages to have two chatty, Black girl best friends. Like, of course. For example, in the novel Moxie, we’re talking a very small Texas town that’s nearly 98% White. How, then, does the main character happen to find the only Latina, Black, and lesbian girls in town and befriend them in the name of feminism? Beats me. This is why tokenism sucks–it appears to be ‘diverse’ on the surface, but there’s no yielding of the dominant narrative and absolutely no knowledge of a different perspective is gained. The “color” here was for the purpose of symbolism only.
Rape/torture porn. I’ve written about this a lot here, so I won’t go into super detail because you already know how I feel about this, but it goes like this: we don’t need any more excessively detailed descriptions of rape, torture, violence, sexual abuse, etc. on paper. We know what these horrors are and what they do psychologically and physically to a victim. If a writer does choose to explore those subjects in a book, I feel like it should be political/critical in nature or to emphasize the development or growth of a character. Simply writing about a woman getting raped over and over does not challenge the abuser or the act, it just assents to the notion that women should be somewhere suffering for the sake of good storytelling. Not cool.
Love at first sight. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m tired of YA characters finding their soulmate on the first day of school as their lab partner in bio class. They have no chemistry, but he’s “hot” and after dating only once, they’re hopelessly and endlessly in love. Bitchhhhhh….please.
Change through abuse. This is kinda related to torture porn, but in a different direction. Here, the love interest from bio class is an abusive jerk whose function is to change or “soften” the strongly-willed (usually female) main character. It’s a sad and very old, sexist trope–that “change” must occur through domination, the breaking of someone’s will. Also not cool.
Forgiveness, always. I love the idea of forgiveness as much as the next gal, but sometimes the person hurting you is just so plain nasty that I don’t think forgiveness is possible. And that’s ok, Dr. Phil, because not everybody deserves to be forgiven. I’ve found this kinda kumbaya, “let’s-hug-it-out-at-the-end” b.s. in a lot of books where family dysfunction is at the forefront and it sucks, because let’s face it, sometimes family members will do more fucked up things to you than a stranger. It’s ok to say no to abuse and mistreatment, even by family members.
Books where the writer describes the main character’s appearance. Yep, this is still happening. I always maintain that a good book need not describe the character’s looks–if the writer is doing their job right, details on their appearance never need to be explicitly shared. You can still have a fleshed out character without going into detail about how he’s a Harry Styles clone, ma’am. LOL.
Very slow action. Like, reeeaaalll slow. Like, we’re on page 50 and the main character is just now leaving the house. Molasses in the plot, snails in the dialogue. First I’ll flip ahead, then it’s a quick DNF, next.
Side characters with no real purpose. We all know this: books with a evil side character whose only purpose for existing seems to be to foil the main character’s intentions. Why are they so bitchy? Well, this is never explained. I understand that the novel isn’t from their perspective, and that’s fine, but if you’re going to make a side character psychopathic in their badness, a little insight is warranted, yanno?