This article was sponsored by Peachtree Publishing Company. All opinions are of the writer’s and not representative of Peachtree Publishing Company or its subsidiary companies.
Taiwanese immigrant parents? Check. Overachieving older sister? Check. Boyfriend? Um … maybe make that plural, boys. That’s June Chu for you. In “Boys I Know,” June navigates the perils of her senior year in high school, the perils being her family, friends, and, of course, love interests. Anna Gracia’s debut YA novel paints a realistic picture of the pressures of being Asian American and dating at a pivotal time in any person’s life: college admissions season.
To be completely frank, June is a “hot mess.” Far from perfect, June is just barely good enough in the eyes of others and herself. Third place at violin competitions, but not first. Secret hookups with Rhys, the cute boy from AP Biology, but not a relationship. Admission to Northwestern, but not a full ride like her perfect sister.
But at the same time, June is relatable, whether she’s called out by her mother in the opening pages for her bra strap showing, or she’s trying to find time to date despite her helicopter parents by scheduling an AP Bio “study date” with Rhys. Moving between the lines of her parents’ rules, while not outright lying or breaking rules, is a rarely represented experience, but a common reality for Asian American girls.
Growing up in Iowa, June experiences the full weight of expectations that accompany the model minority myth and the same amount of loneliness. Her parents expect her to secure a full scholarship to Northwestern on her violin skills, focus on her studies, and become a doctor. She has other plans, including finding the affirmations she doesn’t receive from her family or friends in budding new relationships with the boys she encounters. Yet everywhere she turns, she stumbles and falls.
What does Gracia have to say about June’s romantic life? “I definitely knew from the onset that I did not want it to be a romance. I did not want this neatly packaged happily ever after,” Gracia reveals.
And while there are moments of romance, there are definitely more cringy than feel-good sensual scenes throughout the book. That boy Rhys, for instance, never truly wants to DTR. Another boy wants June to be his girlfriend but nicknames her “China doll.” Last but not least, the Chinese Timothée Chalamet-look-alike grad student she meets on a college visit, well, he has other commitments.
Regarding the racism June experiences while dating, Gracia comments, “[June] is sweeping these microaggressions under the rug. But I do think that dealing with white supremacy on a daily basis, you sort of become numb to it. June is in this environment where people are constantly making super tiny little ones; you know, they’re not big ones. And it’s really not enough to make a fuss. [Out in the midwest, there’s] really not a lot of people there to back you up.”
Through it all, June comes out, not unscathed per se, but with the ability to navigate her family’s wishes and fulfill her own desires. While June’s loneliness is not killing her, it is definitely a theme throughout the book. She may be surrounded by people, but she has to go at it on her own through some of the toughest decisions in her life. It’s a feeling that many of us can resonate with: despite our parents’ best intentions, their high expectations often stop us from sharing with them when we truly need help, and instead, we often turn to others who do not have the answers as well.
“The whole point was that I wanted to show how she can cope in this environment, cope and find a way to thrive. Because, ultimately, she has to carve out her own little way to thrive, because no one around her is helping her do it,” Gracia shares.
In every boy June encounters, I see a little of the past relationships I’ve had with boys, and even men, who were just not ready or right for me. This book is perfect for the lovelorn Asian American teenager who just wants to be enough, just wants to be accepted, and just wants to experience love and wonders why they can’t find it. In that way, “Boys I Know” is both a wake-up call and an empathetic best friend for Asian American girls — or a message to, as Gracia puts it, “Dump your trash ex-boyfriend!”
Connect with author Anna Gracia on Twitter and Instagram at @GrahSeeYa and publisher Peachtree on social media at @PeachtreePublishing.
“Boys I Know” is available wherever books are sold.
Image credits: Peachtree Publishing Company
Last modified: November 13, 2022