Book Review: Subway Girl by P.J Converse

Posted April 6, 2011 by 0 Comments

Synopsis:   From the moment he sees her on a Hong Kong subway, Simon is intrigued by Amy, but he doesn’t have the nerve to talk to her. When he finally works up the courage, he realizes he can’t. Because Amy doesn’t speak Chinese, and Simon is failing English.

But somehow, Amy and Simon connect, and they find that they understand each other. Enough for Simon to admit that he is dropping out of school. Enough for Amy to confess that she is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s baby. Amy and Simon feel lost in a world so much bigger than they are, and yet they still have each other.

In this brilliant debut by P. J. Converse, two unlikely teenagers discover that love has a language all its own.

Review: My thoughts are so mixed up when it comes to this book that I hardly know what to write. The story itself has so many redeeming qualities, that I want to ignore the issues I have with the novel’s structure and plausibility. But, alas, sometimes this is impossible.

What I loved: I loved the fact that the book surprised me. When I received the ARC for this novel, I didn’t think I would enjoy it. The reality is I couldn’t put it down. It’s a fascinating look at a different culture (albeit NOT a true representation of Chinese culture. Hong Kong is more like London or New York compared to mainland China. I was about to rant about this book’s inaccuracy but it quickly made a point of establishing this truth as well. I’m going to China this summer, and as a result my research into this fascinating country has been vast. But I digress…). 

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED how this novel featured two teens making the unpopular choices in life. While these choices might not be accepted by the status quo, they worked for these characters. So many novels, especially YA, are afraid to acknowledge there are other options out there besides going to college, settling down, and having children. Sometimes we want more, or maybe just want different. This novel was completely refreshing when it came to representing the complexities of choosing the alternative, choosing what’s truly best for you. It’s a theme I found rather heroic.

I also loved the ending. It’s not clean. It’s not perfect. Not all the loose ends are tied up. But guess what? That’s pretty much how life works.

What I didn’t love: Because many of the story’s conflicts come from the (mis)communication between Simon and Amy, the narration sometimes falls flat. The narrator uses English to show us Simon is speaking Chinese, but wants to speak English. It’s a little hard to explain without you actually seeing the book. As a result, the narration is sometimes choppy, mundane, and stiff. I know the reasons for the lost in translation feel, but something about it felt forced. Ironically, I’m having quite the time putting it into words myself. My other complaint is the secondary characters never came to life for me. They were never fully explained or expressed as anything rather than plot pushers.

Despite my complaints, Subway Girl kept me reading. My qualms over the structure of the novel didn’t deter me from loving the themes of this novel.

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