The #ReadWithMC community unequivocally agrees that Jean Chen Ho can write beautifully. The only wish? Ho’s first book, Fiona and Joan, read more like a novel rather than a series of short stories.
The book centers on the lives of two Taiwanese Americans, Fiona and Jane, over two decades bonded by their friendship that started at a young age but diverges because of, well, life.
“Fiona and Joan”
Despite the request for more sequencing throughout the book, reviewers loved how Ho wrote Fiona and Jane and bonded with them. “There were times when I felt more connected to Fiona and others where I pulled away from her and felt more connected to Jane, just like true friendship,” said a critic. “The story reads like a collection of pivotal moments in their lives, with each chapter describing that particular moment before jumping back in time.”
Find out exactly what the #ReadWithMC reviewers thought at Marie Claire January Book Club Picks, below.
“📚 Rating: 3.5/5 stars
📖 Summary: Fiona and Jane is a collection of coming-of-age short stories told alternately in first-person and third-person about the friendship between two young Taiwanese American women and the journey that life takes them.
💭 My opinion: This book was not what I expected. The synopsis and reviews advertise it as a story of friendship, and while that’s the case in many ways, the stories themselves deal with a variety of other themes, and the majority don’t have at all Fiona and Jane together. The stories also work as a cohesive whole, but aren’t presented in chronological order and can feel a bit disconnected. Perhaps because of my preconceptions about the book, I found myself anticipating (and wanting) a novel-told-in-short stories-rather than a collection-of-short stories-putting-online -the-same-characters, so in a lot of ways it didn’t click quite the way I wanted it to.
That said, it wouldn’t be fair to judge this book because it didn’t live up to what I imagined for it, and if I look beyond my own expectations, it’s a collection solid filled with engaging stories and more than a few poignant and meaningful moments. The theme of the strength of female friendships didn’t strike me until the very end, but it’s beautifully portrayed once it pops up. And the collection deftly deals with serious topics ranging from mental health to sexuality to serious illnesses. In short, if you’re looking for a good short story collection, you should pick this, but be aware that it might not be quite what you expect.
🗣 Recommended for anyone who enjoys: short story collections; coming-of-age themes; immigrant stories.
⚠️ CW: Suicide/depression/self-harm; mentions of xenophobia/racism/homophobia; discussions of a serious illness; implied sexual assault. [As always, feel free to DM if you need more context re: content/trigger warnings.]” —@savvyrosereads
“I read this in one gulp – that’s how invested I was from the start! Conveying a whole narrative through a group of short stories is already such a cool way of storytelling, but what makes me “Really drew with this book was how much the situations, characters, and dialogue felt. Honestly, I thought I was reading memoirs when Jane was narrating sometimes. When the perspective bypassed Fiona, I had the felt like I was reliving chapters of my own adult life. I also really liked how the stories focused on them as individuals as well as their relationship. Overall, a gripping, moving read and beautiful. Highly recommend! —@literary magician
“Fiona and Jane is a collage of moments and memories, a series of intimate vignettes illustrating the shared story of two Taiwanese American women whose lives intersect and alternately diverge over the course of 20 years as they navigate life, love and loss, the magnetic pull of their friendship a source of both comfort and consternation.
📖 There is so much truth in this book, and if truth is beauty, then this book is beauty. But sometimes that truth is so ruthlessly delivered, yet so concrete, that it’s unsettling, like when Fiona and Jane, 16-year-olds posing as college students, go to a “party” at a cheap motel, playing porn in the background, the enormity of the danger highlighted by the banality of the setting.
📖 The two girls break up that night, as they often do for much of the book; but their bond retains the elasticity of youth, stretching across the country and over the years, loosening a bit under the pressure of bad breakups, petty betrayals and personal tragedies, but ultimately remaining strong enough for them. reunite.
📖 Although the book covers 20 years of friendship, it is not the story of two friends who are there for each other at every turn; rather, it’s the story of how two friends, once inseparable, can forgive absences, fill in gaps, and summon the spirit of the girls they were into the women they’ve become.” —@oh_apostrophe
“I enjoyed Natalie Naudus’ narration on this set. Naudus showed great execution in storytelling from Jane and Fiona’s perspective. The story is about two Taiwanese American friends and how their lives and Different journeys still intersect from childhood to adulthood, and the storytelling kept me interested in the plots (although nothing exciting really happens).
⚠️ Suicide is a theme that runs throughout the book.” —@mae.rox.wanders
“‘Jane had never felt jealous of Fiona. She was not in competition with her; she had always wanted her to stay.’
I wanted it to be a novel.
These 10 short stories feature Fiona and Jane, Taiwanese Americans who have been best friends since second grade, now in their thirties. It spans decades and coasts. I read it very quickly and it almost has to be done because the stories are all related but not linear. Some scenes were fresh, raw and vulnerable, and painfully beautiful. Jean Chen Ho’s prose is nuanced and addresses class, race, sexuality, stereotypes, identity and depicts the tension and drift present in female friendships, although I’m not sure they were actually friends. (If you’ve read it, I’d love your reaction to it.)
The switch from first-person to third-person narrative annoyed me, and there are significant gaps in the timeline, which was confusing. In their childhood and teenage stories, my concern and compulsion to protect them instantly engaged me emotionally, otherwise I struggled with relatability.
What I’m trying to say is: I wanted more time with Fiona and Jane. All in all, it’s an interesting undertaking in the format, but it didn’t work for me. I think it would have been better as a novel to achieve plot coherence, flow and depth. I still recommend it, you might not mind these quirks.
Serve with oyster vermicelli and a bottle of Prosecco.” —@bookbarct
“A sort of coming-of-age story, a novel about friendship, Fiona and Jane spans two decades during the lives of the main characters: two Taiwanese American best friends who navigate the intricacies of relationships and the other complexities of growing up in contemporary America. Told through alternate voices, we get a glimpse into each chapter of a different time in their lives, whether they were together or apart. We see their friendship grow and decline as they try to figure out who they are and how they fit into this world.
I really loved this novel and the characters! There were times when I felt more connected to Fiona and others where I pulled away from her and felt more connected to Jane, just like true friendship. The story reads like a collection of pivotal moments in their lives, with each chapter describing that particular moment before jumping back in time. The writing was exquisite throughout, but my favorite chapters were the first two, which I thought set a fantastic tone, but unfortunately didn’t quite match the rest of the novel – the only reason I give it four stars instead of five.
I found the portrait of their friendship very realistic, as well as their relationship with their mothers and their various partners. Towards the end, the last chapter in particular, it was a little disappointing, as I was troubled by Fiona’s last relationship and felt that she hadn’t reached her full potential (but that’s life, I guess!), whereas Jane’s Story seemed to come full circle, with the novel focusing primarily on her.” —@labibliofreak
“I was drawn to the stories of Jane and Fiona. I think I would have enjoyed this book as a novel over short stories, but I enjoyed the wide range of short stories offered and the focus on the crucial moments in the lives of the two women. I felt that Jean Chen Ho was able to give us a realistic portrait of the ebb and flow of friendship carried from childhood to adulthood and everything that comes with it: high school, college, moving across the country, family, dating, marriage, divorce, babies, life and death. And extra points for great coverage.” —@midwestbookqueen
Did you miss our January book club selection? In February we read What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris. read an excerpt from the book here.