June 2020


By Kelly Yang
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Adults can be selfish, corrupt and disappointing. In Kelly Yang’s first YA novel, Parachutes, two teens accustomed to fending for themselves gradually discover that even when adults fail them, they can depend on each other.

Claire Wang of Shanghai and Dani De La Cruz of California both go to a private high school near Los Angeles. Claire’s parents’ decision to send her to American Prep reflects the cultural phenomenon for which the book is titled, in which wealthy Chinese students immigrate to attend American high schools in the hopes of better educational and professional prospects. Claire leaves behind her shopaholic mother and arrives in the United States with a platinum American Express card courtesy of her absentee father.

Dani is a gifted debater who dreams of attending Yale. She’s also a scholarship student who spends her afternoons cleaning houses, some of which belong to her rich classmates. Like Claire’s parents, Dani’s single mom is mostly absent from her daughter’s life, because she works so hard to support them; her decision to welcome Claire into a spare bedroom at their house is motivated by the extra cash her boarding fees will yield.

Yang relates the girls’ initial wariness of one another, which stems primarily from how radically different their lives have been, in chapters that alternate between their points of view. But Parachutes goes much deeper than a predictable story of rich girl versus poor girl. Although the book’s title refers to a slang term for international students like Claire, the idea of the parachute also functions as a metaphor for the economic, gender and racial privileges that create differences and inequalities in the lives of some of Yang’s characters. Many readers will likely find this seamlessly integrated introduction to the concept of intersectionality eye-opening.

Yang, who shares in a revealing and powerful author’s note that Parachutes is based partly on some of her own personal experiences in college, incorporates issues of sexual assault and abuse, discrimination, parental infidelity and emotional neglect into an elaborate and twisting narrative. The book has an impressive buoyancy despite these weighty subjects, and Yang never slides into preachiness or lecturing. For many readers, finishing Parachutes will feel like saying goodbye to two beloved friends who’ve helped them survive the emotional battlefield that is high school.

Yang is best known for her debut novel, the middle grade book Front Desk, which won multiple awards and became a bestseller in 2018. Parachutes is sure to establish Yang as one of YA’s most thoughtful and vital new voices.

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By Kelly Yang
Katherine Tegen
ISBN 9780062941084

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