Review: Private Label

A young woman and young man are walking on a beach with water coming up near their feet. Her long hair is blowing behind her.

Title: Private Label
Author: Kelly Yang
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 416
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Digital ARC

Publisher summary:
Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight, dealing with ruthless investors who do not think a seventeen-year-old can run a fashion empire, while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request—never look back.

Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do—comedy—and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for, until one day, he starts Chinese Club after school . . . and Serene walks in.

Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.

My thoughts: When I saw that Kelly Yang had a new book coming out, I was excited to get my hands on it. I had a little trepidation when I discovered that the main character’s mother is newly diagnosed with cancer. Since I have been accompanying a loved one to chemotherapy lately, it seemed like it could be difficult. There are moments when the cancer is a focus, but the book has a lot more going on so it wasn’t overwhelming.

As with other characters that Kelly Yang has shared, Serene and Lian are not perfect. They make mistakes and are unique people who are growing and changing. Serene is having to grow up rapidly due to her mother’s illness and naturally, there are growing pains. Serene is creative like her mother, but she is also persistent and is becoming more resistant to the assimilation that her mother has been participating in and encouraging for Serene.

Lian is also an interesting person and it is helpful to see the contrast of the way that he and Serene fit in–or don’t–in their community. They have similar backgrounds but their families have found different ways to live in this mostly white community. Serene has not had the same cultural supports that Lian has experienced.

The book is not simply serious though. It is a romance and there is a fair amount of reason to smile as they bumble their way to a relationship.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoyed Parachutes by the same author. This is a meaningful book that may bring a few tears, but will also provide some smiles and laughs.