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- Why I read it: Cover, multicultural, Korea, intriguing premise
- Disclosure: Purchased a final published paperback edition.
Mina is the perfect daughter. Bound for Harvard, she's Honor Society president and a straight-A student, even as she works at her family's dry-cleaning store and helps care for her hearing impaired little sister. On the outside, Mina does everything right. On the inside, Mina knows the truth. Her life is a lie. Then, the summer before her senior year, Mina meets someone to whom she cannot lie. Ysrael, a young migrant worker who dreams of becoming a musician, comes to work for her family, and asks Mina the one question that scares her the most. What does she want?When I first saw this book while nosing around at a local thrift shop, I immediately knew I was going to walk out of the store with it. First of all, Korea. I've had a deep and abiding love for Korea ever since I tried and failed to make kimchi for a school project. Something about the smell of rotting cabbage apparently creates an indestructible bond between a geek and a country. Second of all, something that nearly everyone agrees is missing from YA fiction is inter-PoC (person/people of color) romance, which the blurb hinted at. Third, I can definitely sympathize with a girl who has the weight of the world on her shoulders. In short, of course I walked out with it.
It took me awhile to get around to it, of course. What doesn't these days? When I did, I finished it in quite literally a single sitting, under two hours. It's not a heavy read by any means. Unfortunately, as hopeful as I'd been about it, it also wasn't a particularly interesting one, despite its promise. While its world is lush and real - I could practically hear Ysrael's guitar and feel the sand between my toes on the beach; the laundromat felt exotic and exciting, by no means your ordinary laundromat - every single one of the characters fell flat, especially Ysrael. First of all, the double perspective between Mina and Suna didn't work at all. Suna's passages felt painfully like watching What's Eating Gilbert Grape, where you cringe every time you know he's going to climb the water tower. Only, Suna's just hearing impaired, not mentally disabled, which I'm sure would raise the ire of many.
Also, even when a character has every reason to whine, it's annoying to read - and Mina whined. Even Jonathon, who in fairness was a total sleazeball, started to receive my sympathy after awhile. It just wasn't fleshed out enough. I'm a big fan of spare writing, but you can write sparely and still give us information vital to the story. In particular, while promising, the relationship between Mina and Ysrael felt more like wishful thinking than actual love. If you'll allow me a bad pun, I'm still waiting for something real to develop here.
All that said, Wait for Me had a brilliant premise, and I'd love to see more books along these lines. It wasn't a book about American, Korean, and Mexican cultures clashing, which is starting to feel overdone. It's a novel about disappointing your parents, defying expectations, and making mistakes - in short, being a teenager. Race and cultural identity barely enters the picture, except when Mina's mother makes her feelings on Mexican migrant workers clear.
While I'm not sure I would read it again, in the end, Wait for Me was well worth reading, if only as a preview of better things to come in YA PoC lit. Even though this one wasn't my favorite, I'll also be keeping an eye out for An Na's work in the future. Three out of five stars.