Reviews of Stay True by Hua Hsu

Stay True

A Memoir

by Hua Hsu

Stay True by Hua Hsu X
Stay True by Hua Hsu
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  • Published:
    Sep 2022, 208 pages

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Book Summary

From the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu, a gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art.

In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes 'zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn't seem to have a place for either of them.

But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the textbook successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.

Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he's been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the narrator's relationship with his parents, who are at times far away. How would you describe the Hsu family dynamic?
  2. The memoir is set mainly in suburban California during the 1980s and 1990s. How does the time period and location shape Hua's experience of growing up? How does it mirror or contrast with your understanding of those decades?
  3. Music is a prominent element in Hua's life throughout the book, influencing both how he sees himself and how he judges others. How does the music he listens to relate to or reflect the events in his life, from childhood to college years? How does he change or incorporate other ways of engaging with society over the course of the narrative?
  4. The creation of original zines is Hua's ongoing ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookPage, "Most Anticipated Nonfiction of Fall 2022"
A touching portrait of the years in a young person's life when every album, every item of clothing is a stake in the ground of their burgeoning identity.

LitHub "Most Anticipated Books of 2022"
One of the finest and most heart-rending remembrances I've ever read. Hsu writes about grief and nostalgia, youth and identity, family and friendship, with elegant, heartbreaking clarity. I wanted to linger over every memory, to stay with Hsu as he rendered the vast expanses of time that defined youth—car rides, browsing at record stores, collaging together an identity from loves and hates. This is a book of exquisite pain and beauty. Absolutely unmissable.

Booklist (starred review)
In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu's] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This memoir is masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu's voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists' Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
New Yorker staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut...Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.

Author Blurb Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn
Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity...a map to his soul's becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.

Author Blurb Ocean Vuong, New York Times bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer's life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend's violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best.

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