Title: Loveboat, Taipei
Author: Abigail Hing Wen
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!
Summary: “Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zero supervision.” And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turn. Gone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.
But not every student is quite what they seem: Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance. Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret. Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye. And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.
When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: Loveboat, Taipei touches on a number of topics with varying degrees of detail. CONTENT WARNING: abuse, suicide mention, depression
As a Taiwanese American, I knew I had to read this book set in Taiwan (the motherland!). There’s been several books with Taiwanese rep in the last few years — American Panda by Gloria Chao and Want by Cindy Pon, among others. I will note that Loveboat, Taipei doesn’t fall into the exact same category. While it’s set in Taiwan and features characters from a variety of backgrounds, including Taiwanese American characters, the protagonist is Chinese American.
A skilled dancer and child of Chinese immigrants, Everett Wong navigates her Chinese American identity while at the summer study program informally called Loveboat. In an early scene, a fellow Loveboat student comments on her name: Ever, short for Everett. Instead of mocking her for her unconventional name, he shows understanding — it’s easy to mix up Ever with other names like Juliette and Bernadette. This moment distills how important Loveboat becomes for Ever. Alongside romance, adventure, and a heavy serving of drama, Ever gets to bond with other Asian American teens like her, people who understand and empathize with what it’s like to grow up the child of Asian immigrants whose first language isn’t English. Loveboat, Taipei skillfully and beautifully captures Ever’s struggle to understand who she is and what she wants.
True to its title, Loveboat, Taipei is packed with drama and romance. Ever finds herself falling in love as she skips classes and sneaks out to go clubbing. Sophie, Rick, and Xavier all have compelling character arcs, and I found myself rooting for each one of the main characters. The summer throws a lot at Ever and her friends, and as mentioned earlier, a number of heavy topics are explored — racism, parental expectations, and abusive relationships, to name just a few. As far as I can tell, the issues and different character backgrounds were handled sensitively, but I hope content warnings and resources are included in future editions.
One of the topics briefly touched upon was Taiwan’s national identity as a separate country from China. I was happy to see it brought up at all, which I wasn’t expecting given that Ever is Chinese American. (For the record, Taiwan is its own country, and that’s not up for debate. Fight me. #SorryNotSorry)
Overall, I recommend checking out Loveboat, Taipei if you get the chance. Ever’s journey will make you laugh and cry and grimace in recognition of a few all-too-familiar immigrant experiences. The book is a ton of fun and a total thrill ride with one of the best love triangles I’ve read in a while. The food, scenery, and culture described brought me right back to all the times I visited family in Taiwan, and makes me wish I were back there again. Put Loveboat, Taipei on your TBR pile!
Recommendation: Get it soon!