You can tell that Parachutes is a story very close the Kelly Yang’s heart from her heart-breaking author’s note where she writes her own experiences of sexual assault and lists some of the statistics surrounding it in high school. I did not imagine that it would be such an emotional, complex and realistic story based on the marketing comparison to Gossip Girl (that does not do it justice at all, the only link is rich teenagers). This book will make you angry. Angry at the system, angry at the adults who sweep assault under the rug because of money and reputation, and angry at men and boys that prey on teenage girls (and all women for that matter).
Star rating: 5 stars
The book has two points of view. Dani is a Filipino-American who lives alone with her Mom. The two both work at a cleaning company – Dani after spending the day at prep school where she has an academic scholarship. One day Dani’s Mom decides to rent the spare room to an international student for some extra money, and so Claire arrives. We are introduced to the concept of a Parachute – an international student parachuted in to American prep school in order to get an American education and get into a good college. Claire is furious at her parents for sending her away, and is less than impressed with her new accommodation.
Dani’s story focusses on her time on the debate team where she’s aiming to win a national competition to help with her application to Yale. She’s competing against rich kids with private coaches, but her debate coach sees talent in her and coaches her one on one. Claire’s story follows her integration into American Prep School, as she joins the other Chinese parachutes and explores her new freedom. Through both characters racism and class differences are explored. The two girls struggle to make friends despite encountering problems where they could lean on each other.
Both characters stories feature an aspect of sexual harassment / assault or rape. Dani is harassed / touched inappropriately by her teacher, and Claire has issues with her ex-boyfriend and is raped by a classmate. The author really explores the girls’ trauma, and this book with make you furious at the lengths adults will go to cover up things like this for financial or reputational reasons.
The only plot point I didn’t really enjoy was that Dani and Claire share a love interest in Zack (I listened to audio so this may be spelled incorrectly). Kelly uses Zack to show what consent looks like, but I just didn’t want the girls to fight over a guy in a book like this.
Overall, an excellent book that far exceeded all expectations I had. It is a lot, and so much is crammed into these 500 pages, but I think it was ridiculously important messages. The system is a mess, and it allows the things covered in this book to keep happening. If you want a read that will leave you horrified, this is the book for you. And definitely look up the trigger warnings.