This is going to be a very hard review to write. I mean, literally, I have been attempting to process the book and think about what I wanted to say in my review for days now — I finished it about a week and a half ago. My overall thought, which is why I am struggling with what to say about this book, is that it left me feeling very, very angry. I was angry the entire time reading it. I was angry when I finished it. And I’m still a little bit angry.
The basic premise: Chua writes about the difference between Western parents and “Tiger mothers,” those Chinese parents who push their kids to excel. (And how she was foiled by her youngest daughter.) Super awesome way to start a book: with a giant stereotype (one that she perpetuates throughout the entire book, despite her assertion at the start that she knows not all Chinese parents are like this and not all Western parents are like “that.” You know, the opposite of Chua’s “this way.”). From there, the book just went downhill for me.
Essentially, Chua rewarded her girls when they were the best, chastised them and called them names when they were anything but perfect. She called them lazy, garbage, and even called their work trash. She constantly compares their work to the work of other Chinese children in their classes. Her girls are not allowed to have or attend sleepovers. They don’t get to act in class plays or join sports teams. They get to do homework, and they get to play an instrument.
I loaned the book to my mom so I don’t have it in front of me, but one of the things that shocked me the most is how Chua’s attitude toward her girls being the best is displayed so clearly. For instance, at one point she is talking about her daughters and the tests they take. She points out that a Western parent would be pleased and would praise their kids if they came home with an A- on an exam. A Chinese parent would demand an explanation from their child as to why it wasn’t a solid A. And a B? Chua says while a Western parent would tell their child good job (but secretly worry he or she had a “testing problem,” which is such bullshit because a B is a perfectly good grade and not an indication of a testing problem!), a Chinese parent wouldn’t ever have to deal with that because their kid would never get a B.
Yeah. There’s 300 pages of that crap.
Chua’s view of parenting is challenged by her younger daughter, Lulu, who is 13 at the end of the book, and by then, she has been allowed to play tennis (although it’s at such a low level that her mom must have a seizure at every game!). That is not enough for me to respect Amy Chua. Honestly, I am repulsed by her parenting, and while I understand her girls have plenty of good memories, too, I think their family could just a healthy dose of counseling. I know plenty of kids who went to good colleges, got involved in activities outside of the classroom and took them to a competitive level, and excelled in life without the “gift” of a crazy, whack job Tiger mother.
It’s hard for me to really feel anything but horror towards Chua’s parenting. I am not a parent, but my sister is seven, and I would never, ever stand by and let our mom call her garbage or stupid. And frankly, my mom would never resort to such bitchy, cowardly tactics.
In terms of writing, this book is solid. It’s an interesting, if amazingly infuriating, read. It’s well-paced, the stories suit their purpose, and you get a sense of the family dynamic. But really, that’s all it’s going going for it. And in all fairness, Sophia Chua, Chua’s oldest daughter, says she loves her Tiger mom. She wrote an open letter to the NY Times about the topic, and she has even started her own blog about being the “new tiger in town.” She is smart and articulate, but here’s the thing: smart, articulate children also come from parents who don’t verbally abuse their children.
Rating: 8/10 (for quality of writing and storytelling only — I don’t endorse her parenting!)