“You know Xing Li; the tongue is like the rudder of a ship. It’s such a small part of the body, yet it controls everything that comes out. You can really destroy someone with your words. The poison can linger long after they have been released.”
Author: PP Wong Published: 2014 Pages: 269
Another book from Legend Press, this time about Xing Li, a girl born and bred in London who is Chinese and never quite feels like she fits in. She is what some Chinese people call a banana: yellow on the outside but white on the inside. After Xing Li’s mum tragically dies, she and her brother are sent to live with her strict Grandmother and Xing is sent to a different school. Here she will discover the unfortunate prevalence that bullying and racism still have, but she will also find people who feel what it’s like to be her and know what it feels like not to fit in. In the year following her mother’s death, Xing Li faces challenges and makes discoveries, but the most profound lesson she will learn is that everyone is hiding something, and sometimes that something goes a long way to explain their behaviour.
I don’t normally read YA, and so when I realised that the protagonist of this book was in school, I was a little apprehensive. I was made even more apprehensive when her dialogue turned out to be very child-like and frankly a little irritating. HOWEVER, what I soon realised as I was reading the novel, is that Xing’s childish innocence and naivety serve as a hard-hitting juxtaposition to the harsh reality and pain she endures after her mother dies. The bullying, her strict Grandmother, and the racism all act like obstacles Xing must, if not overcome, at least endure.
I love Jay and his parents, they were a nice reminder that the world isn’t always full of awful people, and it was refreshing to see that Xing had some respite from her otherwise tiring life. I also liked Aunt Mei; she was a reminder that sometimes we cannot always be the best versions of ourselves and that our past does a lot to change our character. On the other hand, I also admired how violent and graphic some of the bullying in the novel was; it served as a reminder that racism is unfortunately still so present in the world, and I liked that Wong used her novel to allow us to remember this. It was uncomfortable but necessary.
While I did very much enjoy this novel, I didn’t like that it sometimes switched between first and third person; it was a little off-putting and really took away from how good Wong’s writing is and made it a little detached from Xing Li’s narrative as well. But apart from those minor points, overall it was a very strong novel.
I really enjoyed the way Wong allowed us to go on a journey with Xing Li as she discovered there’s so much more to the people you meet than you first realise. The Life of a Banana was a powerful, impactful, and important book and proved that humans are complex, messy, and most important flawed, but that forgiveness is anyone’s most powerful tool.
Thank you to Legend Press for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.