The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler, pub. Berkley The title of this novel promises a focus on the figure of the overbearing Chinese mother popularised by Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). Indeed, the title sets up a scenario in which we might hear from this woman, perhaps to learn what motivates such single-minded pressure to make her children successful. But the novel has nothing to do with this idea, since only one character might be called a tiger mother and the central story isn’t even hers. It would be enough if that misleading feature were the book’s only shortcoming, but it is clear that author Lyn Liao Butler has chosen melodrama over craft to make her story appealing. The Tiger Mom’s Tale , at its heart, is the story of a young American woman, Alexa (Lexa) Thomas, who is born to a white mother and a Taiwanese father. Predictably, she feels suspended between two worlds, especially since her birth is the result of a brief amorous encounter her mother has in Thailand while on a trip with friends. Once Lexa is born, her mother informs the father, and Lexa is allowed to visit him when she is older to forge a relationship with her Taiwanese side. It is a needful reconnection with her Asian heritage since she grows up with her mother’s white husband, Greg, and her half-sister, Madison. During her first two visits to Taiwan she meets her younger sister, Hsu-Ling. But the last trip she makes, at 15, is disastrous: inexplicably, her Taiwanese stepmother, Pin-Yen, does something so cruel that Lexa vows never to visit again. It takes more than half the novel before we learn exactly what happened, but that is a key preoccupation of the novel’s laboured plot. Butler adds other details that seem somewhat haphazardly constructed. For example, at the beginning of the novel Lexa learns her father has died, and this detail allows Butler to construct a narrative in which tension centres on whether she will travel back to Taiwan for the funeral. She has not spoken to any members of her Taiwanese family for more than 20 years, and does not want to return. But go back she must – if only so we can find out what happened to her when she was a teenager. The Membranes: eerily prescient novel on the terrors of technology In the meantime, Butler relies on a series of facile devices to sustain the novel. Lexa’s American sister, Madison, is unreasonably jealous that Lexa would even want to connect with her Taiwanese family (and at a little over 30 years old, she speaks like she is forever 12). Then there is the matter of Lexa’s mother, who reveals early in the plot that she is in love with a woman for whom she has decided to leave their father. There’s Lexa’s budding relationship with Jake, whom she meets on a dating app and who wants to start a family. Finally, there is the slowly unravelling plotline involving the novel’s only tiger mom, who hates Lexa with wildly implausible rage. If Butler wished to comment on the chaos that can sometimes result from the collision between the East and West, or even to construct a compelling narrative about the challenges a young, mixed-race woman faces in a context in which her biracial heritage makes her stand out undesirably, she has missed the mark. Taiwan’s ban on books ‘work of thought police’, co-founder of ruling party says The central scenario she provides requires much more depth and skill to lift it to something more than sensational. As it stands, the book reads as if it yearns to be a film, with no serious regard for the quality of the prose or the sophistication of its construction. Instead, much of what Butler provides is hackneyed, in both its wooden character development and lazy treatment of its central themes. There are endless possibilities embedded within Lexa’s story, most notably in the way her distant Taiwanese father’s absence affects her sense of self and belonging. Lexa wonders throughout the novel whether she has closed herself off from the prospect of having meaningful relationships, but the narrative does not earn this epiphany. Rather than producing an important moment of reflection, that question rings hollow, even though it is central to the human condition.