Which Side Are You On: Book summary and reviews of Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong

Which Side Are You On

by Ryan Lee Wong

Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong X
Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong
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Book Summary

How can we live with integrity and pleasure in this world of police brutality and racism? An Asian American activist is challenged by his mother to face this question in this powerful - and funny - debut novel of generational change, a mother's secret, and an activist's coming-of-age.

Twenty-one-year-old Reed is fed up. Angry about the killing of a Black man by an Asian American NYPD officer, he wants to drop out of college and devote himself to the Black Lives Matter movement. But would that truly bring him closer to the moral life he seeks?

In a series of intimate, charged conversations, his mother—once the leader of a Korean-Black coalition—demands that he rethink his outrage, and along with it, what it means to be an organizer, a student, an ally, an American, and a son. As Reed zips around his hometown of Los Angeles with his mother, searching and questioning, he faces a revelation that will change everything.

Inspired by his family's roots in activism, Ryan Lee Wong offers an extraordinary debut novel for readers of Anthony Veasna So, Rachel Kushner, and Michelle Zauner: a book that is as humorous as it is profound, a celebration of seeking a life that is both virtuous and fun, an ode to mothering and being mothered.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Artist and critic Wong debuts with a profound and nuanced bildungsroman of a young Asian American man and his evolution as a political activist during a visit to his hometown of Los Angeles...This daring and generous work is sure to spark difficult but necessary conversations." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The tale of Reed's reckoning is compelling, and Wong thoughtfully questions various activist practices without rejecting them. But a stronger novel might better weave in the characters along with the back-and-forths on social justice. A promising coming-of-(political)-age debut." - Kirkus Reviews

"With empathy plus sighing, cringing, and laughing, Wong provides quite the education for us all." - Booklist

"Full of vibrant characters, this punchy story [...] offers no simple answers to ongoing racial conflicts. The portrait of a sanctimonious young man who wakes up to the reality of generational trauma and well-meaning failure is spot-on. Truly, a book for the contemporary moment. Ryan Lee Wong's dynamite debut novel weaves timely issues of racism and protest—and much nuance—into a pacy, funny story of generational differences and idealism versus cynicism." - Shelf Awareness

"This book! In Ryan Lee Wong's hard-hitting and witty novel, two generations of Asian American political activists negotiate their relationships with movements, history, L.A., and one another. Wong handles his narrator's earnestness with understated brilliance—especially when he skewers that very same sincerity. Sure to spark conversations." - Entertainment Weekly

"Told with the witty brio of our narrator's youth, Which Side Are You On marks the arrival of an electric new voice." - Esquire

"Salty, funny, angry, and heartbreaking, Which Side Are You On synthesizes the struggles of a family that has been working and hoping for a better world for two, maybe three, generations, and in the process, renews our sense of the histories involved—American history, Korean American history, Black history, Los Angeles history. This is a stunning debut, but also a novel I didn't know I was waiting for." - Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

"Blasting easily woke platitudes, this honest, hilarious, and deeply healing novel gets at the heartbreaking core of building connections between families and friends, and solidarities within and between racial communities. For years I've been waiting for a novel like Ryan Lee Wong's Which Side Are You On, and I urge everyone to read it. It is an astonishing debut." - Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings

"Sharp, fast-moving, and often hilarious, Which Side Are You On is a must-read: a story of Asian American relationships—familial, intergenerational, and otherwise—through the lens of Black-Asian histories, community organizing, and radical politics." - Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

This information about Which Side Are You On was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Ryan Lee Wong

Ryan Lee Wong was born and raised in Los Angeles, lived for two years at Ancestral Heart Zen Temple, and currently lives in Brooklyn, where he is the administrative director of Brooklyn Zen Center. Previously, he served as program director for the Asian American Writers' Workshop and managing director of Kundiman. He has organized exhibitions and written extensively on the Asian American movements of the 1970s. He holds an MFA in fiction from Rutgers University–Newark. Which Side Are You On is his first book.

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