Let’s review the required components of a quest, shall we? (Courtesy How to Read Literature Like a Professor)
- A questor
- A place to go
- A stated reason to go there
- Challenges and trials along the way
- The real reason to get there (hint: it’s almost always self-knowledge)
In The Wangs vs the World, (1) the Wang family is traveling to (2) their oldest child’s house in upstate New York from their family house in LA because (3) their house has just been repossessed by the bank and their family business and fortune has just gone up in smoke during the 2008 crash. They face (4) challenges and trials along the way, including their middle child deciding he’s marrying the first woman he has sex with about halfway into the trip, a car crash, and the last of their business product, which they had hoped to deliver to a client, dissolving. But they do eventually learn (5) their family is and has always been the most important thing.
I enjoyed The Wangs vs the World. It’s funny, it’s told from a point of view you don’t often see: an Asian-American family who had succeeded through hard work, sure, but isn’t doing very well right now. At all. Those two things alone make it worth reading.
What’s it about?
The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast is about an SF Bay Area family that bikes across the country. Why? Well, the father is Jewish and his turning-13-year-old son is an atheist. The father (Matt, also the author) wants to mark his son’s passage into his teenage years; the son tries to go to Hebrew school and have a Bar Mitzvah, but just can’t. So a cross-country bike ride is their compromise. They spend a summer riding from San Francisco to Washington DC. The whole family goes – Matt, his wife, Yonah (the son), and his little brother. (The Beast is an old tandem bike that they buy for Matt & the little brother to ride across the country.)
Why should you read it?
I am not religious (to my mind, you can’t prove either the existence or non-existence of god and I don’t worry about it that much), so I sympathized with Yonah. But I did like the idea of commemorating your child’s passage into their teenage years. My daughter is eleven and as she moves from her childhood to being a teenager, she is changing. Acknowledging that somehow, formally or informally, seems worthwhile. I’d never really thought about that before reading The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast.
The book was strongest when it was talking about Yonah’s rite of passage. It also wanted to be about overcoming your prejudices and drawing awareness to global warming. The marriage of the three themes wasn’t successful to my mind. But it’s still worthwhile.