Love, Dance & Egg Rolls (Jason Tanamor)

Love, Dance & Egg Rolls is the first novel by Jason Tanamor.
Finished on: 9.1.2022
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Jamie loves to dance Filipino folk dances, a fact he carefully keeps under wraps at his high school, despite dancing at an Asian Folk Festival every year. Given that his former friend turned high school bully keeps sending him racist messages, the mood in Portland during the Trump administration is heated anyway, and even his best friends say racist things every once in a while, Jamie keeps considering leaving his Filipino heritage behind altogether – despite his love for egg rolls and Tinikling. But then he learns that the Asian Folk Festival will happen for the last time this year, and on the day of the Homecoming dance no less. Jamie has to decide who he wants to be. And maybe Bethany, the cool goth girl he has had a crush on since forever, can help him find his way.

Love, Dance & Egg Rolls is better in theory than in practice, I’m afraid. I liked that it takes on racism in a humorous way, and shares its love of Filipino culture, but it felt rough and the writing is simply not particularly good.

The book cover showing a drawing of Brown legs as they dance the Tinikling.

Love, Dance & Egg Rolls takes on a heavy topic – the way Jamie has to navigate the racism that seems all around him and exacerbated by the Trump administration and all it stands for. It nicely portrays the way this weighs on Jamie and makes him choose all the time which parts of him he can share at any given moment. Given that topic, I also liked it that Tanamor tries to take it on humorously, although I’m not completely sold on the form of his humor: every once in a while, Jamie imagines himself in a sitcom. Then the writing switches to a script format. And honestly, this just doesn’t feel very timely. I doubt that teens today would feel so connected to sitcoms.

I also felt that the book sometimes takes the easy way out. Instead of interrogating the (unconscious) racism of Jamie’s best friends, it seems to conclude that Jamie is (understandably) overly sensitive and should just accept that his friends aren’t racist and his imagining things. Equally ambivalent for me was the romance with Beth who seems to have no personality beyound “understanding white person”. And while I’m not saying that interracial relationships are per se problematic, it did feel like there was a bit of internalized racism in Jamie in the way he doesn’t even consider any Filipino girl.

On a small sidenote: I am not sure why the Folk Festival ending meant so decidedly that Jamie would never dance Tinikling again. Plus, the finale felt a little flat with its “twist” that just wasn’t a twist at all – we could all see this coming from a million miles away.

So, while I enjoyed reading about Filipino culture and dances (it is there that the book comes most alive), overall the book felt more like a rough first draft than an actually finished novel ready for publication. The writing is uneven, the characters are not really fleshed out and the plot would need some smoothing, too. Since I got an Early Reviewer copy, maybe they will still do some work on it, but I doubt it. Overall, I can’t really recommend it in the way it is now, despite the interesting setting and topic.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me.

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