I received “Dial A for Aunties” by Jesse Q Sutanto in my monthly Feminist Book Club Box, which was all about beach reads! This month the FBC donated 5% of the proceeds to Students Against Voter Suppression, an organization of high school and college students dedicated to protecting voting rights.
This book was a lot of fun! While this book does involve romance, that’s not all in terms of a defining genre. There is the theme of immigrant family dynamics, accidental murder, all set at a brand new hotel, venue for a Chinese-Indonesian wedding between two very wealthy families.
We are following Meddy, a young photographer who works along with her Ma and aunties in order to provide wedding services, from the photography to the cake, flowers, makeup, and even the entertainment. The night before the wedding she is set up by her Ma on a blind date with the owner of the hotel where the wedding will take place. She can’t just not go of course, even though she’s not happy that her mother set her up, she will go and make sure that her family does not get fired from the wedding. Unfortunately, things go really badly and now Meddy and her family have to figure out a way to discard a body while working a wedding!
I think the main thing I loved about this book was the relationship between Meddy and her family. I mean they are all literally trying to get away with murder for each other. There are also these very interesting dynamics between Ma and her sisters, there’s jealousy, resentments, and condescension, all while still truly loving and protecting each other over anything else. These dynamics make for a very interesting project in trying to hide the body since all of them want to be the one to lead them to victory. All of this leads to some very hysterical moments throughout the book that truly had me laughing out loud.
The other aspect of the book is the romance. I tend to be frustrated by romances in some books because the characters tend to have silly reasons or misunderstandings about why they break up or why there is some kind of drama. In this case, Meddy’s relationship with her ex was not ended due to a silly misunderstanding. Meddy is Chinese-Indonesian, daughter of immigrants with big expectations on her shoulders. It isn’t about just becoming a big doctor/lawyer for her, it is about not leaving her family (like other young members of the family have done) and disappointing them by seeking her own life. This was something that really hit home for me. There is a sense of duty to family that exists in many cultures and what I read in this book was very close to what I’ve experienced in my family. The guilt of thinking of yourself first causes one to make certain life decisions that might not be the same if we were just thinking of ourselves. However, there is always the fortune that our families stand by us no matter what, and all of it tends to be a mind game that we trap ourselves in.
Something I really liked as well was the use of English, Indonesian, and Mandarin throughout the book. Ma and her sisters speak mostly in Indonesian and Mandarin but Maddy is not fluent in those languages so she has a hard time keeping up with them. Meanwhile Ma is not 100% fluent in English so some ideas are lost in translation (especially in regards to that date she set for her daughter! OMG). It’s amazing because in my family we speak both English and Spanish so there are definitely some times when I have to ask my dad to elaborate a bit on what some words mean or when my mom will ask about what some term means as well. Conversations simply last longer and we learn to be a bit more patient with each other when we chat.
Overall, I loved the journey that this book too me in, from the blind date, the twists and turns, the reveals, and all the family antics, this is a really fun book to read. I also loved that I identified with a lot of the relationship dynamics. If you’re searching for a book that takes you on a wild ride, this is one to check out!