The Fold by An Na: A Discussion Amongst Three Librarians of Asian Ancestry
We each read An Na‘s The Fold and here are some of our impressions.
*Warning there are some spoilers in this interview. If you don’t want to find out too much about The Fold read this blog post after you’ve read the book.*
What are your general impressions of the The Fold? Are there particular parts that you like or dislike?
Jolene: The beginning was a little slow moving, but overall it picked up through the middle.
Gayle: Overall I enjoyed reading The Fold. I liked that Joyce’s parents were supportive of their children and weren’t villains. Comedic elements were also well timed and added to the plot development. Instead of dreading visits from Gomo, I was looking forward to her appearances in the book. She brought so much to the plot line and made the story that much better.
Trisha: I finished it! Okay, that’s not the strongest recommendation, and I can’t honestly say I really liked the book, but considering I haven’t been able to finish An Na’s first two books, I think that says a lot. I liked that it wasn’t so heavy and will admit to being pleasantly surprised to see a swear word (which reinforced early on how different The Fold was going to be from A Step from Heaven and Wait for Me). Like Gayle, I thought Gomo, Joyce’s aunt who had helped the family immigrate, was a well-rounded character with a lot more depth than the plastic surgery-loving impression of her initially suggested.
Do you know of anyone who has had blepharoplasty aka double eyelid surgery?
Jolene: I know one person who got it done plus a boob job. To me I really didn’t see a difference in her appearance. I know some people need to get it done when they’re older because their eyes start to droop, sometimes so much that they can’t see. Although my mom still thinks I should get my eyes done. I think it’s a throw back to her era where they would scotch tape their eyes and wear fake eyelashes. I think she would’ve gotten the surgery if her eyes hadn’t turned double after wearing hard contacts.
Gayle: I had a high school classmate that had the surgery after high school. I ran into her while shopping once and didn’t recognize her at all. She literally had to identify herself to me. I haven’t seen her since, but then again, even if I ran into her again, I wouldn’t recognize her. Not to say that I’m for or against plastic surgery.
The Fold deals with universal issues of self-confidence and self consciousness. Do you think young women regardless of ethnic background will appreciate this book?
Jolene: Yes definitely! Margaret Cho always comes to mind when I’m thinking about the ideals of beauty in America and the perception of ethnic beauty especially Asian beauty. There’s an anecdote where a radio Dj asked her what would she do if she woke up the next day beautiful. In essence, implying that because she didn’t look like Lisa Ling or Lucy Liu she was not the ideal of Asian beauty. But on the flip side she’s said people often mistake her for those two actresses. I think because we’re living in world where information can be transported so fast we are bombarded with the media’s ideal of beauty all the time. This ideal of beauty is unrealistic and often skewed because a majority of actresses or models we see have had plastic surgery or their flaws are airbrushed away. (Speaking of airbrush did you hear about the whole Beyonce L’Oreal ad skin lightening controversy?)
Gayle: I think Asians in particular will identify with this book but readers of all backgrounds have much to enjoy.
Trisha: I agree. Considering how the double eyelid issue isn’t universal, I was surprised by how much appeal The Fold has for non-Asian Americans. The focus is on a Korean American teen and blepharoplasty, but underneath, it really is about confidence and accepting yourself and the way you look.
What do you think of An Na’s portrayal of Asian Americans in The Fold?
Jolene: I think it’s fairly modern and less stereotypical than her other books. Maybe because the main the plot didn’t revolve so much around filial piety, but dealt more with racial identity. Also the twist with her sister being gay was an interesting concept.
Gayle: An Na’s characters are realistic and well developed. The problem that Joyce faces is simultaneously comedic and superficial yet deeply painfully. The part where she has glue on her eyes and goes to the beach is one of my favorite parts of the books. There seems to be pain on so many different levels.
Trisha: I liked that there were different types of Asian Americans. Good students, not so good students. Superficial, attractive, and confident ones, and others not so happy with their appearance. Some who had the surgery, some who decided against it. And I’m with Jolene about the family role vs. racial identity shaping the portrayal of Asian Americans. Maybe when the focus is on a family, you only get two see one or two aspects of race/ethnicity, but in this book, a lot more Asian American characters were introduced, so there was more variety in their personalities. Plus, while Joyce was often jealous of her sister and resented her, this really is a family that cares about each other. Especially that scene at the end of the book at church. Wrong question, but that’s definitely my favorite scene in the book.
Is there stereotyping in the book? If so, what are your impressions?
Jolene: Yes the Korean restaurant thing. I know there was probably more, but since I don’t remember it probably didn’t bother me as much.
Gayle: I don’t think An Na did anything to break down existing stereotypes but in that regard she didn’t perpetuate any stereotypes either. She created a strong Asian American protagonist dealing with a very real problem that many women can identify with.
Trisha: Um, I don’t remember, what with having read the book about six months ago. (Which maybe means there wasn’t or what there was was so minor it didn’t detract, or distract, from the rest of the story.) I’ll defer to you two.
Does it bother you that when I did a google search for “the yayayas asian americans” a google ad for a plastic surgeon popped up the first time and the second time it was for some Asian dating service? (Seriously it did! And I know this is a loaded question.)
Jolene: Wow! Isn’t that crazy? It could be because plastic surgeons have more money to pay for higher ad space on google. Hey I just did a search and only a bunch of blogs popped up. Did I do it right?
Gayle: Totally. I’m answering my own questions here so I can freely say, wth? Google ads: stop perpetuating hurtful stereotypes!
Trisha: CustomizeGoogle! (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/743)
The beautiful hapa boy. In this case it’s John Ford Kang. What are your impressions? What do you think about the hapa ideal in relation to an Asian American identity?
Jolene: Oh yeah I know that boy. Doesn’t every high school in Hawaii have one of those? Surfer or skater dude tanned, muscular, very cute? I think I had a crush on him in high school too!
I think the hapa ideal is probably similar, but possibly more difficult to analyze because you’re dealing with two cultural stereotypes.
Gayle: Growing up in Hawaii I think the hapa ideal is more prevalent than on the continental United States. It’s kind of a stereotype in it’s own right that hapa means attractive and easily accepted.
I’ve heard otherwise from a hapa friend that being multi-ethnic isn’t always ideal. She says that when she visits her father’s relatives in the Midwest they see her Asian attributes and vice versa when she’s in Hawaii a lot of people she her as being more White. She’s exotic either way.
Trisha: Jolene, you forgot the sun-bleached hair! Yeah, I know those boys, too.
I had a college friend (Asian American from Hawaii, though we didn’t meet until college on the mainland) who said there are no really hot pureAsian guys, that all the hot ones were hapa. This did not apply to girls, though. What this says about Asian American identity? No idea.
Joyce’s family owns a restaurant and certain scenes in the book made me crave Korean food. What’s your favorite Korean dish?
Jolene: Bi Bim Bop. But sometimes I do crave mandoo!
Gayle: Oh where to begin? Kim bap (sushi), soon dooboo (tofu soup), and yakiniku (grilled meats) just to name a few. (Yeah and I’m being a hypocrite qualifying all the terms I’m using.-It’s actually more a clarification for myself than for others.)
Trisha: Kalbi. And some of the side dishes, like namul. Particularly the choi sum and bean sprouts.
Do you think YAs are going to read this book?
Jolene: Yeah I think they could relate.
Gayle: Yes! The cover is cool and it’s a heck of a good read. I’m going to suggest it to everyone.
Trisha: The cover definitely is, uh, eye-catching and will draw teens. The book itself is a lot more readable and enjoyable (in the sense of being pleasant to read) than An Na’s first two books, and I think the themes more universal.
Any other general impressions or comments about The Fold?
Jolene: Overall I thought it was a better read than An Na’s other books. It was funny and looked at the Asian American identity in a different way. Also it deals with the ideal of Asian female beauty when it comes into contact with western thinking. I’m also interested to know the percentage of males who get the surgery. It seems that only females are concerned with getting this surgery. Or it could just mean women are more willing to get plastic surgery than men? It would make for a very interesting book though. (An Asian teen male getting plastic surgery to look more like Brad Pitt.)
Gayle: I like that there’s no angry Korean person in this book.
Trisha: I really want to know what K-Drama Joyce’s brother was watching.