Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat, Taipei is a journey in self-identity.
Author Abigail Hing Wen, who works at Intel, wrote her book at night, on weekends and in the car while waiting to pick up her kids from school.
Silicon Valley life is rife with fodder for the literary market, with books about computer nerds on the late shift, biographies of genius software founders and exposes on sexual harassment in tech. What it hasn’t had, until recently, are books with a female perspective, like Julian Guthrie’s 2019 Alpha Girls, about pioneering female venture capitalists, and Anna Yen’s 2018 Sophia and Silicon Valley, a fictionalized autobiography of her life on the executive inside track. Peninsula tech attorney Abigail Hing Wen’s new Loveboat, Taipei ($15, HarperTeen) takes the discourse in yet another direction. Her New York Times bestseller is a coming-of-age story about the cultural and generational gap between an American-born girl and her Chinese immigrant parents, focusing on the protagonist’s eye-opening summer trip to romance-filled Mandarin language camp in Taiwan (based on the real-life camp). Although listed as young adult fiction, the book’s themes about cultural identity, self-determination and rebellion in the face of pressures to conform are anything but juvenile.
How does a senior director of emerging AI tech at Intel Corp. go from artificial intelligence to writing about emotional intelligence? The married mother of two boys says she was emboldened by Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, for starters. “I feel I’m part of a movement of diverse voices finding their audiences and a place,” she says. “For a long time, I didn’t know an Asian American girl could be the main character of the book. I’m grateful to the authors who have come before me. All the excitement shows people are hungry for representation. They want to see themselves in stories.”
The book, three years and 31 drafts in the making, has struck a chord. At readings, women have been quoting the same line from a scene in which the central character, Ever Wong, tells a girlfriend scheming to find a wealthy boyfriend to marry, “You’re smarter than 99 percent of the planet—why don’t you go and make your own money?” Says Wen, “This resonates with so many women, who tell me, ‘Yeah—that was me. I didn’t know I could do all these things.’” Like Kwan’s work, it may only be a matter of time before her story finds its way to the big screen.
Photography by: Book cover, courtesy of Harpercollins Children’s Books;
Wen portrait by Olga Pichkova/IOPhotoStudio