Summary and book reviews of The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

The Son of Good Fortune

by Lysley Tenorio

The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio X
The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

From award-winning author Lysley Tenorio, comes a big hearted debut novel following an undocumented Filipino son as he navigates his relationship with his mother, an uncertain future, and the place he calls home.

Excel spends his days trying to seem like an unremarkable American teenager. When he's not working at The Pie Who Loved Me (a spy-themed pizza shop) or passing the time with his girlfriend Sab (occasionally in one of their town's seventeen cemeteries), he carefully avoids the spotlight.

But Excel knows that his family is far from normal. His mother, Maxima, was once a Filipina B-movie action star who now makes her living scamming men online. The old man they live with is not his grandfather, but Maxima's lifelong martial arts trainer. And years ago, on Excel's tenth birthday, Maxima revealed a secret that he must keep forever. "We are 'TNT'―tago ng tago," she told him, "hiding and hiding." Excel is undocumented―and one accidental slip could uproot his entire life.

Casting aside the paranoia and secrecy of his childhood, Excel takes a leap, joining Sab on a journey south to a ramshackle desert town called Hello City. Populated by drifters, old hippies, and washed-up techies―and existing outside the normal constructs of American society―Hello City offers Excel a chance to forge his own path for the first time. But after so many years of trying to be invisible, who does he want to become? And is it possible to put down roots in a country that has always considered you an outsider?

Thrumming with energy and at once critical and hopeful, The Son of Good Fortune is a luminous story of a mother and son testing the strength of their bond to their country―and to each other.

PROLOGUE

Maxima in the dark. Half-lit by a Virgin Mary night-light and the glow of a screen saver, a slow-motion sweep of stars and planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Earth. Dressed in denim cutoffs and a Mickey Mouse tee, she doesn't shiver, despite her wide-open bedroom window and the cold night beyond. She sits at the foot of her bed, cleaning her nails with the tip of a switchblade. "May bakas ka bang nakikita sa aking mukha?" she sings. "Masdan mo ang aking mata." Like all her favorite Filipino love songs, this one is about heartbreak.

An alarm goes off. The digital clock glows red—10:10 p.m. She closes the switchblade.

She stands and stretches, takes quick jabs at the air—one- two, one-two, one-two— then flips on the desk lamp and sits, turns on the ball-shaped webcam atop her monitor. A tap to the space bar and the galaxy vanishes; now her face fills the screen. Using it as a mirror, she puts on maroon lipstick and dabs with a Kleenex, smiles wide to check her ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Excel's job and Maxima's online schemes are brimming with an absurdity that contradicts the romance of the American dream, showing a reality where the only viable options beyond superhuman achievement are illegal or questionable according to social mores. This reality has been acknowledged under a romantic spotlight in American crime dramas such as the TV series Breaking Bad. However, society's most marginalized, including undocumented immigrants more predisposed to desperate circumstances, are not often depicted with such a charming combination of relatability and guile when undertaking understandable criminal actions. In The Son of Good Fortune, Maxima's cons are not significantly romanticized, but neither is the reader denied the delight of watching her and her son building step by step towards a big joint scam...continued

Full Review Members Only (765 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
When you don't belong where you are, where exactly do you belong? Lysley Tenorio's engaging and comic first novel about immigration and identity asks this question with compassion and savage humor.

New York Times
Tenorio’s insistence on the specificity of his characters’ dreams and longings is its own kind of argument for their right to be here....The women in this book — Maxima, Sab, Maxima’s friend Roxy — are by the far the strongest and most compelling characters. And compared to his mother’s online scheming, Excel’s digital and real-life naïveté sometimes feel unconvincing, as though we’re meant to believe that hermetic disconnectedness is a form of self-protection...Ultimately Tenorio’s novel is an affecting portrayal of just how potently a parent can shape the expectations of her child.

BookPage
Tenorio, himself a Filipino immigrant, accurately and compassionately portrays the immigrant experience. Despite its universality, The Son of Good Fortune doesn’t lack for originality...The story finds a witty voice and sets a unique tone. Despite the drudgery and harshness of immigrant life, Tenorio explores the humanity in the tribulations and creates characters who are as lovable as they are real. With his debut novel, Tenorio excavates joy from the immigrant experience.

Shelf Awareness (starred review)
[The Son of Good Fortune] sympathetically illuminates the tenuous lives of undocumented immigrants, those who are ‘not really here’.… Tenorio's characters are humorous and loving, in spite of the exclusion overshadowing their very existence.

Kirkus Reviews
A masterfully constructed story of identity and ambition and an authentic portrait of one unforgettable Filipino family.

Booklist
Tenorio, author of the short-story collection Monstress, the San Francisco Chronicle's Book of the Year, is back with a highly anticipated debut novel...Tenorio creates an unusual perspective on Filipino culture and inspires readers to reflect on what it means to be an undocumented American...Thoughtful.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Written with great empathy and sly humor, Tenorio's tale of Excel and Maxima's gradual reconciliation takes a searing look at the ways they've taken care of and failed each other. This is a wonderful achievement.

Author Blurb Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here
Lysley Tenorio's The Son of Good Fortune is flat-out brilliant, and what makes it so wondrous is how Tenorio controls the complexity of the narrative. How can a book be filled with so much humor, such a light touch, and yet still touch that weird place in our heart that can break us apart? Excel and his mother, Maxima, are characters you won't forget, and the world in which they exist, stuck between belonging and not belonging, does not deserve them.

Author Blurb Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers
Full of heart, wisdom, and humor, The Son of Good Fortune is an unforgettable novel of mothers and sons, secrets and truth, and what it means to belong, told through the story of one undocumented Filipino family.

Author Blurb Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown and How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
This story is bursting with heart and wisdom, humor and hope. Tenorio's gifts as a writer are on display in this expertly constructed, gorgeously written tale of a family haunted by past mistakes, struggling toward the future. Immersive in its rich detail, it gathers momentum to its affecting and powerful conclusion. A remarkable novel by an author I plan to follow for years to come.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The 1992 "Pepsi Riots" in the Philippines

Demonstrators protesting Pepsi in the Philippines holding banners and picket signsIn The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio, a friend of Maxima and Excel's named Roxy recalls the 1992 Pepsi Riots in the Philippines, saying, "Pepsi kills, believe me." When Excel comments that he has never heard of the riots, Roxy retorts, "Know your history." Excel, who was born on a plane between the Philippines and the U.S., believes that as someone who is neither fully Filipino nor American he has no need of either country's history. However, Roxy's reference to the riots, the violent result of Pepsi's mismanagement of its "Number Fever" contest, subtly calls attention to how the histories of the two countries are inextricably intertwined. It also leaves room for reflection on the consequences of American capitalism and ...

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