This novel written in diary form starts when its narrator Jo Kwan is 13. It finishes three years later. Jo comes from Hong Kong but now lives in Coventry. She has a tough life, helping out in the family Takeaway run by her unstable, sometimes violent father and her long-suffering mother who has never learned proper English while Jo has never learned enough Cantonese to talk back to her. Short for her age she is also picked on by bullies at school.
So far so miserable? Not a bit of it. Jo is also wonderfully resilient, seeing off recurrent crises with the acid humour also found in her comic line drawings breaking out on every other page. Largely autobiographical, this story does not spare her uncomprehending and uncaring family whose only interest is to run the business and make as much profit as possible. There are no birthday or Christmas presents for her or her younger sister, nor for the older brother who now lives with his grandparents.
But Jo has a real talent for drawing and against the odds finally wins a scholarship to the London College of Fashion – just as the author once did herself. She also has a best friend Tina, who helps her during some of the worst moments. But her real saviour is her determination to come through to her ambitions despite huge family pressure pushing her back into a life she is intent on escaping. She still dwells on ordinary adolescent concerns like clothes, hairstyles and boyfriends while working behind the family counter sometimes up to thirty hours a week on top of school days. Somehow she manages to remain excellent company, with a talent for black humour that makes this exceptional book a real pleasure to read. Misery memoir it is not, although there are sad moments. This is a novel that deserves to be read by anybody from teenage onwards – it is that good.