August 06, 2013

A search for heritage gets out of control

By L. Tam Holland
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Vee Crawford-Wong has a mouthful of a name that says a lot about him. His Chinese father gave him a first name with no Chinese translation because, as he tells his frustrated son, “We wanted to unburden you from a commitment to artificial meaning that comes with a family name.” Gee, thanks, Dad. He gets “Crawford” from his Texan mother, but she won’t say a thing about her life before Vee was born. The three of them have a fine home life, but their attempts to avoid talking about extended family explode when Vee’s history teacher asks the class to trace their genealogical backgrounds. Hence, The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong.

A biracial teen's search yields hilarious results.

Author L. Tam Holland’s first novel is long and a bit gangly, not unlike Vee himself, but the side stories into high school ring true, often to a painful degree. Why is it that when life is flying by so quickly, an hour spent in class with a sworn enemy can feel like hard time, or a moment’s attention from an unreachable crush can pull two weeks along in its wake? Holland gets the highs and lows right, along with the regrettable degree to which kids suddenly feel smarter than their parents and emboldened to act on it, often with disastrous results.

Don’t despair, though—Holland mines comic gold from those darker moments. A racist insult fabricated to win Vee sympathy instead sends his parents into hysterical laughter (you’ll laugh, too, the next time you need ibuprofen). And while Vee’s pain is real, his actions in response to it consistently lead to farcical results, and sometimes lead him halfway around the world. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is a frank look at growing up biracial and feeling neither/nor, then discovering that wholeness was there all along, just waiting to be found.

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