Book Title: Lucky in Love Author: Kasie West Number of pages: 333
Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment —
In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun… until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now, Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.
Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Protagonist (although means well) spends her winnings frivolously, lets people use her for cash, gets angry etc. – gotta be okay with the growth that comes with naivety
– Love interest is somehow unaware of the above
– The Vietnamese rep in this story is basically non-existent (if not for the cover, I would have imagined him as a white boy. full stop.)
– Good inclusion of the importance of familial and academic dynamics in this story
– The dialogue is fluffy af
For your reference: this is not my first Kasie West book but I gave this one a shot because of the male Viet-Am experience I wanted to read about.
I know what you’re thinking “why do you read books you know you’ll dislike, Joey?” Read on to see why.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Lucky in Love at Book Expo.
Lucky in Love asks the question “what would you do with a million dollars?” multiplied by thirty (because that’s how much is in the pot after tax). It’s a fair what-if question responded to with messy intentions. Between a crumbling family, newfound fame, collegiate aspirations, and a Vietnamese love interest at work, Lucky in Love, at its core, captures the essence of a coming of age experience and one that many readers can appreciate and turn to with West’s previous storytelling.
That isn’t to say I don’t have problems with this book. I do. But before I get into the mess of that, I should preface all of this to say it is a cotton-candy-esqe fluffy romance with dialogue that shines with snark. With that in mind, I did go into this book to view the Vietnamese-American interracial romance experience as a central point of interest as it may (or may not have) related to the cultural and social climate of the Californian city in which Lucky is set.
Speaking to the delivery and fulfillment of this premise, the road map achieved what it had to do but to the point where the realizations were a bit “long time coming” and the conflict was stretched so thin that it dilutes the revelations in other issues to be more than just happenstance.
I’m going to just come out swinging and say this book cites the setting, inclusive of Asian demographics, as being roughly 20%. That’s 1-in-5. Even if Seth moved to a different part of town, you cannot tell me that I wouldn’t see another canon (on the page) East or Southeast Asian. Only that is the case, with the other visible minority being a two Hispanic students (iirc).
Look, I’m not saying this book had to (or even intended to) be about race relations. That isn’t the headlining feature of this story. But to show, by telling, Seth navigating an environment that regards him with ignorance and a lack of decency and empathy, you can bet that narrative door becomes unhinged. And it does, sort of. You have Seth commenting as to his anger when proposed with questions like “but where are you really from?” or “wow you don’t even have an accent!” from sub-characters with minuscule screen time. He elicits a realistic and genuine frustration. However, it is never challenged by him or Maddy, whom is apparently more-in-love-than-not with Seth. Instead, it takes an internal toll on him as he displays his disappointment to her away from the situation itself, allowing the issue to persist.
By effect, whether intended or not, Seth can become relegated into the category of being the model minority quiet/passive Asian. This shitty narrative again, am I right? Sure his character breaks the standard conventions of being only sub-par with school (e.g. math) and that he’s a social butterfly (!) but how much does that all mean if his voice is constantly drowned out by the loud environment that indirectly resists him by association of his skin (being a second-gen Vietnamese-American) and whereby he doesn’t do anything?
I’m not saying he has to combat the adversity, but what is the purpose of these scenes? Is it to make readers feel uncomfortable? Is it to persist the continued ignorance in America (albeit California)? I can’t know, but subtext doesn’t always carry through to the reader. That’s why when dialogues like these becomes unchallenged, it can get normalized. Maddy should have done something, is all I’m saying.
That’s my primary concern.
To beat the dead animal even further, I’ve seen comments re: questions of race experienced by Seth to be in the light of “maybe they’re actually curious!“. Yes, maybe, but no. Just no. This book does not offer curiosity in that light because we aren’t directly viewing that perspective. It happens off-screen, and more importantly, the people who makes these comments do it through microaggressions. So unless Seth is some pathological liar, you can surely have better conversation starters than to make it about skin and race. Intersectionality is the key.
Other world building considerations are that home is vividly imagined, the school is all but okay if not for the random food trucks cashing in on the apparently rich-ness of the student body, and a tiny zoo that has the most carefree personnel and security system in place (which, I could expound upon, but my rage above limits me).
On the bright side, I *think* Maddy means well in how she navigates her life post-winnings. Truly. Money can solve a lot of things, yes? It’s her careless naivety of throwing cash at everything, as if she’s the new Oprah, that got on my nerves. I’ll call it being responsibly irresponsible. It’s as if she actively chooses to hand money out (allowing people to take advantage of her generosity?) but then gets mad at people for using her re: being two-faced about it? This isn’t an adolescent thing now…
There’s this one scene prior to a party on a rented boat and she attempts to hire a no-name band from school. She’s like “will you play at this gig?” and they’re like “sure, but pay me upfront x dollars” to which she agrees without a thought. $10k isn’t so bad for having $30-million, but the fact that she throws all sorts of logic out the window is just…why?
I did say the bantering in this book was cute, and it is. It’s quirky, it’s weird, it’s fun, it’s Seth and Maddy. But this overlooks a lot of clunky writing exhibited in the lead’s hot-to-cold demeanor and some of the passages that are choppy. But I did read an ARC version so maybe it was changed for the better.
Our heroine, Maddy, is a hodge podge of archetypes that becomes pliable when needed. From being the doting daughter who felt the need to change the course of familial tension to the budding socialite who set aside academic prowess and devolved into being incredibly gullible for friendships, the adolescent coming-of-age experience and facing hardships is passable. Sure the choices she makes probably aren’t the best (e.g. essentially buying friendship) and the whole non-concern of her parents giving her free reign over her earnings (e.g. I can’t remember if they even recommended seeking a financial adviser) but with that much money, who’s to say rationality matters? That isn’t to say I thought how she handled herself was great but it’s divergence in being apparently pre-lottery smart and grounded to post-winning lackadaisical that makes me stop and think “the fuck is she doing?”.
The one saving grace is that she’s still put academics at the forefront, so it’s not all for naught. Plus her being a lead who has-and-goes-to a job. That’s refreshing.
There are two avenues of thought I have with Seth as the leading lad. One is that he’s a second generation Vietnamese American (great); hardworking and breaks many stereotypes of Asians. The other is that he’s this oblivious troll (by his own peril) who confounds me as to not know that Maddy won the lottery for
days weeks months. The fail-safe is this: Seth lost connections to Intarwebs because he was grounded. Fine, I’ll give you that. But to not have other people discuss it freely with him like “yo, dude, someone from our area won!” that could trickle down from parents-to-kids to become discussions in a school’s social circle? Blasphemous. It’s just difficult for me to believe that him (and other co-workers at her zoo) are blatantly oblivious.
You know, I see comments saying that this story is one to look out for because it features a POC romantic lead. While true, my concern is that he (and this story) still reads very white. You don’t get brownie points for including racial remarks let alone showcase a setting that’s supposed to be more-Asian-than-it-is without actually showing it on the page. But I digress. I guess I was hoping for a lot more than what was presented and that might be more on me for the high expectations than anything.
Still though, if not for the cover, I could have sworn Seth was white af.