Audrey Zhou hated growing up in small town Illinois. She hated being one of a little handful of non-white students at her high school, hated how her parents were thoroughly immigrant Chinese, hated how her mother seemed to expect Audrey to fulfill all of her mother’s own unrealized dreams, and conform to unrealistic expectations. She couldn’t wait to get out of there. Once high school was over, she spent one last summer hanging out with the boy she’d been crushing on for years, and then sped away. Now she lives in New York. She’s successful, a sales rep at a high end magazine, with a gorgeous fiancé whose parents not only adore her, but own homes in upstate New York and are helping them buy a brownstone.
Her father is having a relatively minor medical procedure and asks his only child to come. Audrey’s fiancé is up for a week in Illinois, so what can she do? Reluctantly they go for what ends up being a life-shattering week, one in which Audrey is forced to examine her conclusions and view her origins in a fresh light.
Central Places is at its core a coming-of-age novel–although not in the way that’s usually meant. It’s really about that moment in young adulthood when we have enough distance to look back at our childhoods and our parents and see them whole, and see that (in most cases) our parents were never as powerful nor as impossible as we believed them to be, and our circumstances were hard but maybe not as unique as they seemed at the time. Delia Cai does an excellent job of showing a young woman going through these realizations. Audrey is relatable, with plenty of all-too-realistic blind spots about her own reality, and a strong arc of growth. A timely and well-written story.
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