Claire is a rich Chinese girl living the high life in Shanghai with both her parents even though her dad is usually gone because he’s working or spending time with one of his mistresses. Meanwhile, Dani is a Filipina American debate team star living paycheck to paycheck with her mom since her dad skipped out on the family. When Claire’s parents take her out of her Chinese private school and send her to the United States for an American education, it’s Dani’s house she’s staying in. Dani’s a bit of a snob and Claire is so privileged she doesn’t know how to do laundry, so they butt heads more than a few times.
Then sexual violence enters their lives. The popular Chinese boy Claire’s been dating rapes her after she breaks up with him; Dani’s debate teacher makes an inappropriate move on her after a tournament and makes life difficult for her when she tries to tell her private school’s administration.
I hate everyone who puts them through hell, but the work Dani puts into finding out who alerted the school to her anonymous online confession is incredible, leading her down a rabbit hole of corruption both inside the school and in the larger community. It makes discovering that her one of her teammates has been paying for speeches look like nothing. She may not be interested in journalism, but she’s got the dedication of the best kind of investigative reporter.
The way they’re treated for telling people what happened to them is absolutely infuriating, especially when Claire goes through an in-school kangaroo court she never had a chance with. The accused’s father basically owns the school and the town, after all. None of them are going to find his son responsible for his actions. Unfortunately, it’s also quite truthful to what people are put through when they come forward. Yang’s own author’s note tells readers Claire’s hearing is pretty close to what happened to her in college.
Not even Claire’s parents have any sympathy for her when she tells then what her ex did to her. Her appearance-obsessed mother makes it about how their family will look if people know Claire suffered through a rape, not what Claire has been through and how she feels about it. That attitude makes me curious about rape culture in China and the rest of the world. I know the beast in the United States all too well, but other countries have different versions of rape culture.
If you need a breather from the more serious stuff, there’s also a love triangle between Dani, her longtime crush Zach, and Claire. It’s a little bit dramatic at times, but considering everything the book deals with, it’s a welcome change of pace. Zach offers both girls the support they need, though it takes a while for him to understand how much they need it or why.
And that climax with Dani’s improvised competition speech? Oh my GOD, I loved it. I could only dream of being able to out my abuser on such a big stage with all those ears tuned to my frequency.
If you’re looking for a conclusive ending with concrete consequences for Claire and Dani’s abusers, you won’t find it. You don’t see the aftermath of what the the girls choose to do. In a way, it’s a hopeful ending. You get to make the choice of whether the girls get justice after everything they’ve been through. Maybe you’re a realist who wouldn’t choose that ending, but everyone has their own view. Parachutes is a fantastic YA debut from Kelly Yang and I look forward to seeing more from her.