A banana, in addition to being a popular fruit, is a Chinese person who is yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Xing Li and her brother Lai Ker fit this description perfectly. Born and raised in London they belong nowhere and when their mother dies and they are sent to live with their fabulously wealthy but vindictive grandmother and dispatched to an exclusive private school in which bullying is rife they feel more alienated than ever, unsure of their place in a world which is openly racist.
Salvation presents itself in the form of an enlightened Head Teacher, who recognises Lai Ker’s potential and saves him from a life of crime and Jay, Xing’s only friend, similarly shunned because of his Jamaican/Chinese origins.
Grandma’s household also consists of her mentally ill son Ho and her actress daughter Mei, herself a victim of racial stereotyping in the unsympathetic film world. When Ho – a tormented recluse – asks for Xing’s help in ending his life, the narrative seems to become rather too heavily freighted with issues: mental illness, bereavement, bullying, first love, racism, identity-a broad sweep for any one narrative to explore, perhaps.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see a British-born Chinese novelist making her first entertaining foray into the world of YA fiction and Wong’s Banana Writers initiative, set up to give a voice to new East Asian and South East Asian writers, may well ensure that we see many more.