Book Review: Kelly Yang's Parachutes is a Conversation Starter During this Pandemic

Kelly Yang has taken a shot at Young Adult and brought readers to tears in this gripping story involving wealth, immigrant, relationships and trauma. When I received this ARC, I didn't realize the wild rollercoaster of emotions I'd be taken on. Stay tuned to see my interview with Kelly Yang!

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 a lengthy novel but it deals with so many important topics faced in our society today, it’s a breeze to read. For Yang’s first YA novel, it’s beautifully written. Readers are so invested in the story, we don’t realize until later that there’s only been one non-asian (major) character. That’s how Yang crafted the story so well. We’re driven by their experiences more than their appearances.

The story begins with Claire’s luxurious life in Shanghai, China. Everything might seem perfect for the wealthy girl, but up close there’s pressure. It’s all about status and reputation teenagers are put on for the family. Claire understands this well, but still wants to speak her mind. She wants to be different! She wants to break the system of pleasing adults and going with what her gut is feeling. It’s not possible in China. Too much at risk. It’s admirable to read the pros and cons to being wealthy. Thinking it’s all good but people on the outside don’t realize how pressurizing and fake it can all be.

The only way Claire can have a normal life is moving to America. Still, there’s pressure since stereotypes of America are brought in and who Claire might become. That’s where we’re brought into Dani’s life. The total opposite from Claire. They’re both smart but have totally different personalities and way of living.

Dani has dreams and aspirations. She wants to get into Yale with her top grades and credit of being on the debate team. She also works hard outside of school. She’s a maid along with her mother and best friend Ming. She lives in a small villa with her mother, with no complaints. Until Claire arrives and Dani’s mom hosts her.

Two girls under the same roof are bound to stir up trouble. Claire find her Parachutes of popular girls while Dani keeps her distance. Everything Claire does, Dani finds fault with it. It’s understandable when someone invades your home and has high expectations. It doesn’t help that Dani’s mom treats Claire like royalty.

Yet Dani has bigger things at hand. Her debate teacher favorites her with a nickname and soon offers her private coaching. All seems well in Dani’s eyes until he gets too friendly. Shocked by someone she thought she could trust, Dani doesn’t know what to do. It affects her more than she realizes. When she calls him out on it through email, things only get worse since he plays the victim. Torn between whether to speak up with her debate senses kicking in or brush it off, Dani doesn’t know who to turn to for guidance.

Claire’s life begins to crumble when she learns the difficulties of her parents relationship. It doesn’t help when her father blinds her with money. She doesn’t take anymore of it and finds solitude with Jay. Another wealthy kid who seems too perfect. When Claire and Jay date, things are okay at the start but Jay becomes suspicious throughout the story.

What once were Dani's and Claire’s perfect lives, begins to crumble around them—they only have the voice of themselves to make things right. What made this book more realistic to today’s society was that when they did speak up about harassment, no one listened or believed them. I don’t want to give too much away since I highly recommend this book! At times Dani and Claire did or reacted to things in the way that wasn’t favorable, but them coming together in the end and finally finding something they share—that they can both fight for, is empowering.

"Being strong doesn't mean never hurting." - 88% into the book

The ending to Parachutes doesn’t give much closure but that’s what makes it even more realistic! So many cases of sexual harassment and assault today are still left unanswered, opened while the victims are left to fend for themselves. At least they have people around them supporting them.

In other sub-plots, Claire’s parents are more understanding to what she wants and who she is. Dani finally finds her debating voice to speak on a matter that she can relate to the most. Her speech wasn’t based off facts, rather experience. That’s what made it so moving. It’s that moment in the book readers waited for. It’s that moment where Claire begins to realize she isn’t alone and that she isnt’ as different to Dani at all. They didn’t bond well throughout the book but in the end, when they came together and spoke up, that was enough closure for readers.

My review can also be read on The Nerd Daily:

I also had the opportunity of interviewing Kelly Yang:

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Perth WA 6000, Australia