For 2022, I decided I was actually going to do my best to try to read the books my online book club was reading this year—as long as I could get my hands on a copy. This is the first time in a long time that I did not pick the book I was reading based on the premise or the author (or even the cover) and I knew that this would be a different read for me since I tend to gravitate toward one kind of thing. I wanted to expand my horizons. Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho comes highly anticipated, and I was excited to read about Asian-American women from the perspective of an Asian-American woman.
Best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen explore the lonely freeways and seedy bars of Los Angeles together through their teenage years, surviving unfulfilling romantic encounters, and carrying with them the scars of their families’ tumultuous pasts. Fiona was always destined to leave, her effortless beauty burnished by fierce ambition—qualities that Jane admired and feared in equal measure. When Fiona moves to New York and cares for a sick friend through a breakup with an opportunistic boyfriend, Jane remains in California and grieves her estranged father’s sudden death, in the process alienating an overzealous girlfriend. Strained by distance and unintended betrayals, the women float in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they’ve lost.
In stories told in alternating voices, Jean Chen Ho’s debut collection peels back the layers of female friendship—the intensity, resentment, and boundless love—to probe the beating hearts of young women coming to terms with themselves, and each other, in light of the insecurities and shame that holds them back.
Spanning countries and selves, Fiona and Jane is an intimate portrait of a friendship, a deep dive into the universal perplexities of being young and alive, and a bracingly honest account of two Asian women who dare to stake a claim on joy in a changing, contemporary America.
I knew going into this that this wasn’t going to be the type of book I normally read and that I probably wouldn’t love it from the get-go, so I gave myself a chance to get through it and then sit with it before I delved into my thoughts. I knew we would be getting the story from both Fiona’s and Jane’s perspectives, but I didn’t realize that each chapter would be a short story and that the storytelling wasn’t linear. Though I liked the writing itself, I’m so torn about what I thought about it that I’m giving it 2.5 stars, splitting right down the middle.
I wanted this book to be about friendship much more than it was. And though Fiona and Jane each call each other the other’s best friend, I feel like I didn’t really get a sense of their relationship as adults. They barely saw each other, they only spoke about top-level things and you mostly saw how they interacted with other people in their lives (that came and went just as quickly). It seems they were friends still just because they were friends as children, so I don’t really understand the point of writing about them.
I was drawn to Jane’s stories much more than Fiona’s, but I felt like we got to know a bit more about Fiona—or at least about the various men in her life. And I really wanted to see where Jane’s story was headed, and I never got a sense of it, though the end of the book points to one obvious thing that I won’t spoil.
All in all, I felt like I was missing the friendship part of this friendship book, and though I do really like Jean Chen Ho’s writing style, it left me wanting more.
“Fiona, Won, and I have been friends since second grade, Miss King’s class. Same junior high and same high school, too, until Won got tossed last year, when we were sophomores…Most of the boys we knew from school were Neanderthals with pimples, drenched in Cool Water cologne. Won wasn’t like them. He was different. We felt safe with him. Fiona and I would never actually tell him to his face, but Won was all right by us.” —Jean Chen Ho, Fiona and Jane
Thank you to Ian Dooley on Unsplash for the featured photo.