Author Lindsay Wong made her debut on the CBC Canada Read’s list in 2019 with her harrowingly honest memoir The Woo-Woo, and now the Canadian author is on the precipice of releasing her second novel this June — only this time, she’s writing young adult fiction.
Wong’s new book My Summer of Love and Misfortune follows the story of Iris Wang, a Chinese-American teen who has no idea what to do with her life post-high-school graduation. After her family sends her to live with relatives in Beijing for the summer to help her “find herself,” she embarks on a journey that teaches her new things about herself, her family, and her future.
It’s Wong’s first foray into the world of young adult fiction, but she’s excited to release the novel out into the world of teen readers. Making the jump from writing a personal memoir to writing fiction for a teenage audience was a really fun experience, said Wong, especially given the contrast between the two genres.
“When you’re doing a memoir, you’re kind of looking at the past and all these memories that you maybe don’t necessarily want to remember, so you go to all these dark and really uncomfortable places,” she said. “But with YA, because it's fiction, it's light and it's fun. You get to really kind of experiment with characters and plot and voice, so that was such a great thing to do.”
But while My Summer of Love and Misfortune may be lighter than Wong’s previous work, that doesn’t mean she avoids important topics within the narrative.
“It's a little lighter, a little more summery, fun. Like, I think it's a beach read, in many ways, it's something that you can really just enjoy in front of the pool with a drink,” said Wong. “But it definitely does talk about family and it talks about self-esteem, toxic relationships, and kind of knowing or not knowing who you are.”
The novel’s main character, Iris, struggles with her identity as both Chinese and American, especially as she emerges from high school with no college acceptances, a fresh breakup from her boyfriend, and no idea what to do next.
For Wong, telling a story that touches on all of these issues of personal identity and explores the complexity of cultural connections was something she felt was very important, especially for young readers.
“Family is something that I like to write about and the idea of like, who are you as a person, right? And as a young person, you're sort of put in all these roles and how do you navigate that?” said Wong.
“I think culture is also really important to me because growing up as a Chinese Canadian person, you’re kind of torn between ‘what is Chinese and what is Canadian?’” she continued. “It’s such an interesting phenomenon to be like, ‘I’ve never been to this country but I’m connected to it somehow.”
To also tell that story using the perspective of an Asian heroine was equally as important, said Wong, to build diversity within the YA genre and subvert some of the stereotypes often attached to Asian characters.
“We're always seen as really meek, passive, really good girls, right? And with My Summer of Love and Misfortune, I was hoping to have this character who is so flawed and so imperfect [to contradict that],” said Wong. “And I think it's really important to sort of widen the genre, and for Asians Canadians to see themselves in literature, especially young people.”
As an author, Wong wants Iris’s voice to make a connection with readers, to validate the shared experience she knows many young people have — like the response she received when she wrote The Woo-Woo.
“I had high school students or really young university students come up to me and they're like, 'I connected to the voice, I really understood what it was like because that’s my experience too,'” said Wong. “And I think that’s partly why I write.”
My Summer of Love and Misfortune is set to release on June 2, just in time for Wong’s appearance as a guest author at this year’s Festival of Words on July 13-19.
Since the Festival is hosting all of its events online this year, thanks to the ongoing safety concerns with the coronavirus pandemic, Wong won’t be visiting the Friendly City in person but she is still looking forward to taking part in the literary event.
“I'm really excited. I mean, I'm sad that I don't get to visit,” said Wong. “But it will be great to have a virtual festival.”
If things were different and she was headed here this summer, Wong said she would be looking forward to sampling the local food scene the most — as she does every time she travels somewhere new.
“I always just take a bunch of other writers or whoever's there and I'll be like, ‘take me to your food places,’” laughed Wong. “And that's what I do, I usually end up eating my way around the festival.”
But regardless, Wong is excited to join the other featured authors for this year’s event — even virtual — because she finds writing festivals to be a great way to connect with both readers and other writers.
“I'm always the first person who is like, 'yes, I'm coming to your festival!" said Wong. “Readers are why we write, essentially, in many ways and just knowing that your book can sort of reach so many people that you didn't expect it to reach, I think that's such a great way to bring us all together during a festival.”
For those looking to read both of Lindsay Wong’s works before she debuts at the Festival of Words, My Summer of Love and Misfortune will be available to purchase either from Amazon, Indigo, or your local bookstore on June 2. The Woo-Woo is also available anywhere books are sold.
Wong will also be going live on her Facebook page on May 22 at 3 p.m. CST, reading an excerpt from My Summer of Love and Misfortune as part of the ongoing Canada Performs series as a teaser before the official book launch in June.