Jen Wang’s given us cyberpunk fantasy with In Real Life (2014) and high fantasy with The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018). With Stargazing, readers get a more contemporary story with, as Kirkus notes, a true portrayal of the diversity within the Asian-American community.
Christine is a Chinese-American girl from a more traditional Chinese family. She is focused on school and her music, until her family moves YuWen Lin and her daughter, Moon, into the in-law apartment where Christine’s grandfather used to live. YuWen and Moon are a struggling family, and the hospitality offered by Christine’s family is much appreciated. Christine and Moon are encouraged to spend time together, but the two are polar opposites: Moon is a vegetarian Buddhist who loves K-Pop and is rumored to get into fights. Despite their differences, Christine and Moon grow close, with Moon introducing Christine to a lighter, more fun side of life, letting her relax and let her guard down. Moon confides in Christine, telling her that she belongs in outer space, and that beings from space speak to her. When Moon meets a Caucasian girl that shares many of her interests, Christine’s jealousy takes control, and she puts Moon into an embarrassing situation; Moon reacts with her fists, which leads to an episode that lands Moon in the hospital.
Jen Wang weaves an intricate story of family expectations, social groups, and the complexity of navigating friendships in Stargazing, giving us some of her best storytelling yet. Influenced by events in her childhood and growing up in an Asian-American family, the story has depth and incredible emotion. Whether she’s giving us cyber farmers (In Real Life) or a friendship between two schoolgirls who love K-Pop, Jen Wang always manages to make her character’s humanity the central focus of her stories. Christine and Moon are so real, so strong, that their voices come right off the page and speak to readers; telling them about their stories, their lives, their struggles. When Christine writes that she doesn’t consider Moon Asian, we see the conflict between a traditional Chinese household versus a more contemporary, Westernized Chinese-American household. Christine’s mother holds Chinese lessons in her home; YuWen runs a plant nursery and watches TV with her daughter at night. While Christine listens to more Westernized music, Moon embraces K-Pop and dance routines. The two families present a glimpse into the diversity of Asian-American families, both connected to the culture in different ways.