Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Adult – Contemporary
Published May 24th 2016 by Knopf
This book exceeded all of my expectations for what I thought I was getting myself into. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect when reading the synopsis. Was it YA, contemporary, and/or historical fiction(ish) and after reading it I’m still not sure but I know I loved it. It heavily centers around a 17 year old girl and her relationship(or lack-thereof) with her dad.
So What’s It About
At 16, Vera is a pretty regular high school who is precocious but she has her boyfriend and friends and seems to know who she is. When she has a breakdown at a party (she strips naked and begins to baptize the cheerleaders with liquor) she’s held in a mental health hospital when the doctors see her as a danger to herself and others. She’s eventually diagnosed with bipolar and placed on heavy medication. Once her family feels she’s stable enough, her dad proposes a father/daughter trip to Vilnius, Lithuania for a history tour in his grandmother’s hometown. Her dad, Lucas, weaves in the story of how he grew up hearing about how his grandmother escaped Nazi capture and found her way to Poland and eventually the U.S. While he is excited to understand his family roots it’s also a trip to bond with his daughter who he did not begin to have a constant relationship with until she was 11. The following story is told through emails from Vera to her boyfriend Fang at the beginning of each chapter followed by narration from Lucas.
I genuinely think I loved everything about this book. The characters felt flawed in a realistic way to me but that still slid in bits of humor that I found endearing but also true to life of finding humor in the awfulness of life sometimes. The story is about family ties but mostly about the relationship between Vera and her father. Lucas has always struggled to be a good father he knows he is supposed to be. Throughout his time in Vilnius, Lucas is forced to accept the daughter in front of him instead of the idea of how their relationship should be and how he fails at it, mostly by drinking and failing to be there when it counts. He also has to accept that family legends he grew up hearing about the infamous Grandma Sylvie may be not completely rooted in the truth, as most family legends told to children aren’t. Throughout the reveal of Lucas’ past it’s explained just how much of it affects his present even when it shouldn’t.
I actually loved Vera so much more than I thought I would based on her description in the synopsis. I was expecting a manic pixie dream girl and I was so excited to see she had her problems that could and couldn’t be solved but that they were honest. She put on the dream girl front but was just a scared teenager beneath that mask and I loved that. I loved her journal entries and her letters to Fang because they let us into her mind and draw our own conclusions about her mental health (which I really liked how it was portrayed because it wasn’t wrapped up in a clean little bow at the end) and about what her father saw in her.
We didn’t say anything, and then she made a little noise in her throat. “Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, my boy. I love you so much. I wish I could take all the hurt in the universe and swallow it so that there was nothing left for you to find, no single crumb of evil in the whole universe, and you could wander around just happy.” “Yeah, but I’m a grown-ass man, Mom. I’m supposed to deal with shit.”
“No one else in the group guffawed – they were all listening patiently. No one seemed amazed that in Lithuania, in order to deal with the end of communism, local artists had made a statue of Frank Zappa. It didn’t seem to strike anyone but me as odd or wonderful or funny.”
Maybe, I loved the history woven into the story and subtle humor but most of my rereads are comfort books and I don’t know if I would qualify this book as that. However, I want this pretty cover for my bookshelf and then maybe it will happen. Definitely recommend this to anyone looking for something not always told history, father daughter tension, and some subtle humor to lighten it up.