Review of Hungry Ghost

Hungry Ghost Hungry Ghost
by Victoria Ying; illus. by the author; color by Lynette Wong
High School    First Second    208 pp.
4/23    9781250766991    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781250767004    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250328021    $11.99

“Remember, don’t eat, just taste.” Be gwai (乖 good or obedient). California teen Valerie Chu learns these lessons from her controlling Taiwanese American mother, who monitors her daughter’s meals. Valerie, hearing these harmful messages, engages in disordered eating and in purging. In this emotionally challenging yet redemptive tale, readers follow Valerie’s efforts to be the “perfect daughter”—excelling at high school while maintaining a stick-thin figure. A tragedy that strikes her family adds further complications. Refreshingly, this graphic novel holds a mirror up to the harsh double pressure some Asian American girls face when they are forced to follow both Eastern and Western beauty and conformity standards. Ying’s tranquil, pastel-toned digital illustrations of Valerie’s outward life provide a stark contrast to her insidious mental-health difficulties, which are implied to be multigenerational. The story shows how Valerie’s condition prevents her from enjoying such activities as a Lunar New Year feast or a Paris class trip, while her curvy best friend helps model healthier body image. Valerie herself eventually provides a positive example by sharing her struggle with trusted loved ones. Ying’s afterword and resource list offer additional support.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee is a young adult librarian for the New York Public Library.

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