When Abigail Hing Wen was sent to Taiwan for a six-week-long summer program to learn Mandarin and more about her heritage, she did not expect the wild and crazy nights of friendship and romance.
Wen, who also works in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist, captures the journey of self-discovery in her debut novel, “Loveboat, Taipei”.
The Overseas Compatriot Youth Formosa Study Tour in Taiwan, aka the “Love Boat” program named in honor of the 1970s sitcom, offered Chinese Americans and Canadians aged 18 to 23 language classes in the mornings as well as activities in subjects like calligraphy, ink painting, dancing, martial arts, learning Chinese musical instruments, and sightseeing around Taipei, according to SCMP.
Although the “study tours” were advertised as a cultural enrichment program, it became popular for being a great place to find romance.
Wen’s “Loveboat, Taipei” follows the story of 18-year-old Ever Wong, who secretly wants to be a dancer but fears of disappointing her Asian parents.
The cast of characters includes Wong, Yale-bound Rick Woo, boy-crazy Sophie Ha, and Xavier Yeh, who carries a dark secret.
In an interview with NextShark, Wen says all four main characters are ultimately trying to figure out the balance of finding what they love to do as a career but also honoring their parents’ wishes.
“My character, Ever, tries to figure out what her parents are worried about and she needs to get to a place where she’s strong enough in terms of what she wants to do with her life,” she explained.
Wen noted that everyone’s circumstances are different, but knowing oneself is the most important part. For some, taking care of the family is the most important aspect of their life. That certainly was the case for Wen’s Filipina mother and Indonesian father whose responsibility was to take care of his six brothers and sisters.
“That was a different time. For our generation, we have more economic stability and so in some ways, we have more of a privilege to pursue our dreams than our parents may have had,” she said.
Wen believes people become better leaders when they follow and pursue their goals and figuring out how to financially support themselves, which is advice she tells her two children.
“Our parents do want us to be happy and part of that happiness is pursuing these dreams,” she continued.
Prior to the publishing of her young adult novel, Wen had no idea that an Asian American girl could be the main character, which is why it’s important for young readers to see diversity and inclusion.
“Having more diversity shows kids that they can aspire to any profession,” she said. “We can really be anything we want. But sometimes you don’t have those models in front of you. The power of storytelling in fiction and in film and TV is it imagines what the world could look like.”
Other influential Asian Americans who have also come out of the “Love Boat” program include Congresswoman Judy Chu, “Fresh Off the Boat” author Eddie Huang, and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s brother, Lawrence.
Wen described the program as “a fun community and a weird, niche, cultural experience that no one’s really known about until now.”
“Loveboat, Taipei” is set to release on January 7. The story has a cast of over 30 Asian Americans and Wen’s hope is that it will be made into a movie and increase diversity and representation in Hollywood.
“Hardcover preorders serve as critical votes towards this goal,” she said.
“Loveboat, Taipei” is available through your local independent bookseller IndieBound or Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target. Wen says her debut novel is standalone, but a sequel is already in the works.
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