Allison Hong is not your typical 15-year-old Taiwanese girl. Unwilling to bend to the conditioning of her Chinese culture, which demands that women submit to men’s will, she disobeys her father’s demand to stay in their faith tradition, Buddhism, and instead joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then, six years later, she drops out of college to serve a mission—a decision for which her father disowns her.
After serving her mission in Taiwan, 22-year-old Allison marries her Chinese-speaking American boyfriend, Cameron Chastain. But 16 months later, Allison returns home to their Texas apartment and is shocked to discover that, in her two-hour absence, Cameron has taken all the money, moved out, and filed for divorce. Desperate for love and acceptance, Allison moves to Utah and enlists in an imaginary, unforgiving dating war against the bachelorettes at Brigham Young University, where the rules don’t make sense—and winning isn’t what she thought it would be.
When I got a request from the narrator of this memoir, I had to accept the request to listen to the audiobook. As mentioned in my response to her, the CE and I spent a little more than eighteen months on Taiwan in Taipei back in the late 60s (during the ‘Nam conflict). The CE was in the Navy at the time but his rank did not afford base housing, so we lived in the community (experiencing two typhoons while there). (Also, I met a young Taiwanese girl who asked if I would help her with her conversational English. I did.)
Living on the economy, we saw first hand the lifestyle, noted the patriarchal society. The women worked tirelessly whether at home or in the rice paddies. A difficult existence. Still, reading much of the abuse by the author’s father, much less by her own mother as well, was difficult. I couldn’t imagine a world where my own mother would be so hateful to me.
Allison is abandoned in Texas by a missionary she had met in Taiwan through the outreach program of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. While Cameron was basically putting in his time, however, Allison took the teachings to heart and relied heavily on the Elders for guidance and wisdom—even against her own family—a saving grace.
So having established a connection to her local LDS church in Texas and left with no recourse, little English and less money, she turned for help to the only sanctuary she had.
I must mention the chorus of proverbs mentioned throughout the narrative, ancient Chinese sayings, pearls of wisdom that were greatly enjoyed. Allison’s thoughts though many times reminded me of just how different the cultures are, unwritten rules almost unfathomable to Westerners. Her biggest stumbling block to immersion into American society was understanding a culture so perplexing, so alien to her own.
In the meantime, Allison managed a divorce and the beginning of social activity which also served to examine a philosophy strange to my own when she juggles men attracted to her. While being blown away by her resilience, intelligence, and fortitude, there were times when some of her attitudes and values clashed with my own.
Smart as she is, however, she managed to not only succeed in classes but well enough to garner additional post-graduate studies.
I had a little difficulty with the somewhat unusual delivery of the narration but the style of writing and revelation of painful memories created waves of emotion from shock to anger. Descriptions of the people of Taiwan brought back a lot of memories—also poignant—as was this triumphant memoir.
I received a complimentary review copy of this audiobook from Kathleen Li (thanks for the contact, Kathy). These are my honest thoughts.
Genre: Asian & Asian Americans Biographies, Biographies of Religious Figures
Publisher: Allison Hong Merrill
Listening Length: 9 hrs 26 mins
Narrator: Kathleen Li
Publication Date: September 9, 2022
Source: Request from narrator
Title Links: Nine-Nine Fire Hoops [Amazon]
Barnes & Noble
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five Stars
The Author: Allison was born and raised in Taiwan and arrived in the U.S. at age twenty-two as a university student. That’s when she realized her school English wasn’t much help when asking for directions on the street or opening a bank account. By recording each of the classes she took––including physical education––and reviewing the tape every night for a year, she eventually learned English well enough to earn an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. But please excuse her if she misuses the verb tenses or mixes up the genders in third-person pronouns when she speaks. It’s no secret––English is a hard language to learn.
Allison writes in both Chinese and English, both fiction and creative nonfiction, which means she spends a lot of time looking up words on Dictionary.com. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and her work has won both national and international awards, including National Championship in the Life Story Writing Contest (Taipei, Taiwan), Grand Prize in the 2019 MAST People of Earth writing contest, the inaugural winner of Sandra Carpenter Prize for Creative Nonfiction, first-place in the 2019 Segullah Journal writing contest, and first-place in the 2020 Opossum Prize. Her work appears in both national and international publications. Her memoir, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, is forthcoming from She Writes Press, on September 21, 2021.
Allison is an instructor at Sotrymakers Writer’s Conference. Aside from writing, she also models and acts for print and film. But her greatest joy is sharing her life with her husband and their three sons. Visit her at http://www.allisonhongmerrill.com where you can sign up for her extremely short monthly email.
Narrator: Kathleen Li has narrated 40+ audiobooks on Audible and is expanding into other types of VO work, including audio dramas, animation, dubbing and corporate VO. Her voice is warm, engaging and empathetic.
As a Chinese-American, she is familiar with Mandarin and Taiwanese pronunciations, as well as British, French, Japanese and Southern. Because of her audiobook experience, she is skilled at varying character voices, tone and pacing in VO.
©2022 V Williams
Chinese character attributes: Top – Dragon
Botton left – Love