Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.
They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.
Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.
Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.
Parachutes is one of those books that you know will break your heart even before you read it. Following two different girls–Dani De La Cruz, star debater, and her new host student Claire Wang, shipped off to the U.S. against her wishes by her wealthy parents–the book explores the effects of sexual assault and harassment, and how wealth and prestige can be leveraged to silence the victims. Reading how two girls experience the shame of being abandoned and disbelieved when they need support the most is difficult, to say the least. But their story still needs to be told, and Kelly Yang does so with sensitivity and insight, once more gifting readers a book that encourages them to do more and be better.
Reviewing such a book can be challenging because the message of the book can overpower everything else happening. However, it is worth noting that Kelly Yang is a talented writer, and that shows through in every aspect of the story. The characters are brilliantly drawn, in ways that make them sympathetic and relatable, even when they make mistakes. And the narrative is tightly woven in a way that builds up drama and suspense. Parachutes is not only a book with an important message; it is a good story, as well.
My main critique with the story is actually one that I have quite frequently: even though the characters take turns telling their stories, their voices are not distinct. If I have to double-check whose chapter I am reading because both characters have the exact same narrative voice, I know that the author has not fully differentiated between the two. In this case, I often only knew who was speaking because of which of their friends they were referring to. It seems unlikely to me that Claire and Dani would both tell their stories in the same way, with the same voice, so I think this aspect could have been improved.
On the whole, however, Parachutes is a wonderfully-told story with a timely message about the need to take sexual assault seriously and to listen to the the stories of the survivors. This book is so painful in part because it reads as so true–organizations and privileged individuals and families do very often leverage their wealth and reputations to silence the people that they have harmed. Too often, protecting someone or something that is deemed more “important” takes precedence over protecting people and getting them justice. Seeing that happen to Dani and Claire is heartbreaking, but it is that emotional reaction from readers that I think Yang is hoping to use to inspire her readers to action.