The first book in an epic and romantic YA series following the fictionalized descendants of the only officially recognized empress regent of China Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent. Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.
Heiress Apparently (Daughters of the Dynasty, #1)Featured
That is, until she lands a role that has the possibility to launch her career - if she can come to terms with the racist and homophobic way that the character has been written. She will be working with her idol, Eilene Deng, who is co-directing and has her own vision for the movie, despite the way that Hollywood has planned the script. To make matters more complicated, the movie is being filmed in Beijing, a place that she knows her parents came from but about which they won't speak. Gemma is hoping to connect with her roots while she is there and find a sense of belonging. When she arrives, she learns that she looks like a Chinese celebrity, Alyssa, and soon her plans are thrown for a loop.
What I loved: Although this book has an adorable romance, there are some deeper and important themes that really make the book shine. The portrayal and explanation of the harmful stereotypes in movies of Asian roles and characters is definitely a big one. I found this to be a multi-dimensional element that not only explains why they are hurtful and wrong but also why actors/actresses may be willing to play these roles and the power dynamics in action there. I also found the themes about family really well done. Not only does Gemma have to worry about her parents and how their relationship will change because of her actions, but she also understands extended family, the complicated roles they can have, and the way to forge new relationships. Gemma shows so much empathy to other characters that also play into this need for connection and deeper relationships.
I also appreciated the way that Gemma shows the feeling of "Other" being Chinese American - not really accepted in the US for the first part of that two-word phrase and not fully accepted in China for the second part. These feelings of immigrants and their descendants are, of course, very much at play still today and quite aptly portrayed.
The romance was quite strong as well, showing the importance of support, care, and understanding paving the way to a better relationship. I also really appreciated the historical and cultural context of China through Gemma's eyes - there is some interesting political background and current climate discussions that were a great addition to the book.
Final verdict: With deep, important themes and intriguing premise, HEIRESS APPARENTLY is a captivating read. Highly recommend for fans of FRANKLY IN LOVE, MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE and/or 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT PINKY.