“Whasian” Digs Deep on the Power of Identity

Throughout the past year, there are two things that I’ve truly valued from a few of the books that I’ve wound up reading: 1. I’ve found out about these books from a wide array of sources and 2. a number of these books have incorporated a lot more well-rounded, diverse characters than I’ve ever read before. I first found out about Joy Huang Stoffers’s debut novel, “Whasian,” via an interview she did for the Multiracial Family Man podcast. Host Alex Barnett had been tweeting out about the interview with her, and so when it eventually reached my network, I decided to investigate.

I listened to the episode, learning about what it was like growing up on the East Coast, as the youngest of two children to a White American father and a Taiwanese mother. Then when it came to her actually talking about “Whasian,” I was intrigued by the synopsis of a mixed race girl trekking off to her first year of college, and yet despite it all, is still haunted by her ghosts on a daily basis; thus having to look within herself to finally do something about it. Instantly captured, I decided to read it.

As I have mentioned in the past, it’s nice to come across mixed race characters in literature. As was the case when I read “Everything I Never Told You” and “Back Kicks and Broken Promises,” it solidifies a message that yes, there are people with these kinds of backgrounds, and they need to be acknowledged. That was a commonality I was able to identify with in protagonist Ava Ling Magee right away.

I also really liked the timeliness of the novel, as it’s set around the time President Obama was elected for a second term in office. Apart from smart phones and online videos being mentioned, I liked how even the discussions about being mixed race were so prevalent to today’s time; enough to where books like Kip Fulbeck’s “Part Asian, 100% Hapa” are mentioned. In a lot of ways, the narrative showed how just because a mixed race man is in office, does not mean we’ve entered a post-race era, for we still have a way to go. “Whasian” shows how, in regards to those who are mixed race.

Stretching off of that truth further, it just goes to show that no two mixed family experiences are the same, as Stoffers makes evident in the case of Ava’s family life. She creatively balances it out with another “whasian” character named Derek, whose family is anything but similar to hers, as made evident at a Lunar New Year dinner. That even goes for another character who, despite being half Mexican, grew up speaking Spanish at home, and English when out in the world.

On the other hand, while this may be a coincidence, I also couldn’t help but notice a lot of commonalities “Whasian” has with the previously named books I reviewed; such as secrets that, if let loose, could cause irreversible damage to a family and affairs taking place behind spouses’ backs. As the child of a mixed race couple who’ve been happily married for nearly 30 years, it gets tiresome when the same dark tropes are used to portray a mixed race family, when there are many out there that are very much drama-free and truly loving. I hope to eventually come across a book where such a family is portrayed.

It’s important to note that numerous instances of physical and mental abuse take place and/or are discussed at various points throughout the novel. I found it wise of Stoffers to make a point of addressing that; on not only how hard it is to confide in others about something like that, but also about summoning the courage to do something about it. That’s an issue that’s just as prevalent in today’s time, and the way the author touched on it was thoughtfully done and empowering.

“Whasian” made for an incredibly engaging first novel from Stoffers. Already, I’m looking forward to more writings from her in the future to come.

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