When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart. After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined.
The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-WongFeatured
Vee Crawford Wong, like many teenagers isn’t happy and doesn’t have a good conception of who he is. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is the story of his search for himself, his family’s past, and for a girlfriend. While I wasn’t totally captured by The Counterfeit Family Tree, I did like it and am impressed by Holland’s debut.
Most impressive I think is the first person male narration. Vee definitely feels like a real and flawed teen boy, with his various fantasies and grumpiness with his situation in life. Until I sat down to start writing this review, I actually had no idea the author was a woman, since she did the first initial thing to keep the book from being marketed to girls (it’s sad that this is necessary). I’m always really impressed when authors do first person narration of the opposite gender well, so major props.
Vee is half Chinese and half Texan. He feels weird-looking and like he doesn’t fit in, especially because his family unit is so separated from everything. He doesn’t know any of his grandparents or what his parents’ lives were like before they met. As he goes through the identity crisis that is being a teenager, various school assignments and his own curiosity lead him to want to know about the vast void of his family tree.
The story focuses primarily on Vee’s family. His mother is sweet and his father awkward. He, like many teens, does not appreciate them. He hates them for keeping secrets and a little bit for producing him, this odd-looking mix of a person. Most parents in YA are absent, so I loved how The Counterfeit Family Tree was essentially a journey by which he comes to understand and love his parents. That’s not something you see often in YA.
Running alongside that is the school and romance drama. Vee dreams of the cool girl, Adele, and of being on the basketball team. Instead, he goes to dances with his friend Madison’s super awkward friend, something neither of them is thrilled about and doesn’t make the team. As a sort of consolation prize, he’s made manager of the girls’ basketball team. He learns a lot about what it is he truly wants during the year, by making friends and paying attention to people aside from himself. One of my favorite things was actually the way he and a bully came to a sort of grudging respect for one another.
What Left Me Wanting More:
One thing did irk me about this book, however. Vee made some rather disgusting comments about the basketball team girls before he really knew them, particularly slamming lesbians. Of course, I expected that, during his work as the manager, he would come to really respect the girls on the team and see past the narrow-minded stereotypes of this scene. That didn’t really happen though. I thought it was going to with Steffie, but that turned out to be a big fat no. I am not okay with anything in that above paragraph at all. All lesbians are not the same. YA should not play into disgusting stereotypes, not even for realism.
The Final Verdict:
Except for that one really frustrating thing, The Counterfeit Family Tree is a good debut novel, one that is a must read for readers looking for YA set in different cultural backgrounds. I would certainly try another book by Holland.
Vee Crawford-Wong is half Texan, half Chinese, and that’s about as much as he knows about his personal identity. His mom and dad refuse to tell him one tidbit of information about where they come from. On the rare occasions when his dad does say something about China, it’s usually something about American Chinese food. Vee’s mom tells him more about their 2005 Toyota named Fanny, then about her aging parents in Ding Dong Texas.
When Vee’s history teacher makes the class write a five page paper about their ancestry, Vee makes a bunch of stuff up. One lie leads to another and soon the Crawford-Wong family is headed towards China and a truth that nobody wants to reveal.
This book is rich enough for a ninth grade English class–if the parents don’t complain about all the almost-sex scene. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong also has something missing from a lot of YA bookshelves these days, a non-white main character.