<Be warned: This review contains spoilers. Go read the first book!>
Have you read the first book? Good. Let’s get started then.
Kevin Kwan did it again. His second book “China Rich Girlfriend” had me enthralled from start to finish, made some profound points and even added in a huge twist that I barely saw coming. In Kwan’s latest story, readers get to see what comes next for many of the same characters who appeared in “Crazy Rich Asians.” At the forefront of course are Nick and Rachel and my dreams were fulfilled (SPOILER ALERT) seeing them get married. Along with these two lovebirds we also get to follow up with Astrid and Michael after Michael’s business goes big. And did I mention Kitty Pong busts her way onto center stage at the beginning of this story? That’s right, minor character clawing her way into a major role! But honestly, would we expect less from Kitty? (She is quite the go-getter from what I remember in the first book and by the end of this one I wanted to high five her.)
We are also introduced to a new cast of characters from Hong Kong, where the main setting of this story takes places. These characters include Rachael’s actual father, his wife (who isn’t very happy about Rachael), their son Carlton, and his “she isn’t my girlfriend” girlfriend Colette.
As with his first book in this trilogy, Kwan makes sure to pull readers in with some gossip column-esque drama while simultaneously pointing out some interesting things about this unique socio-economic group. The best part is how well he weaves these meaningful messages into the actions of his characters.
The biggest statements I saw Kwan making in “China Rich Girlfriend” included the differences between how the older and newer generations spend their money, how money can poison people and actually make their lives harder than when they were poor, and how much work actually goes into being “socially acceptable” in these upper class crowds. As always the characters that bring out these ideas are placed in quite the contrast to Nick and Rachael, the grounding couple. Let me give you a brief overview of what I mean:
- Nick and Rachael: Despite Nick being quite loaded, he has a down-to-earth personality even if he is a little air-headed about just how rich he is. This is complimented by Rachael who was raised like many people with a hard working parent who taught her to value what she has, not to be foolish with money, to value tradition and family etc. These are the characters most readers can relate to because they are like many of us: grounded, not ‘I’m flaunting everything I have’ rich, and just truly good people.
- Astrid and Michael: Oh these two break my heart. In the first book we see Astrid and Michael torn apart because Michael feels upset by not making as much as his wife or her family. Here we see what happens when he gets money. Here’s a hint: It destroys the good parts of him. He turns into the worst kind of rich guy, obsessed with cars and weapons and making a good impression. And, shocker, it takes a toll on his marriage with Astrid.
- Kitty Pong: Kitty used to be a soap opera star and an ‘adult film’ star who dated Nick’s cousin in the first book and then married up, hard. Kitty is the character that has to literally re-write her own history to be seen as socially acceptable in the higher class society. Throughout the book we see Kitty go from flashy, magazine cover fodder to someone who is able to be allowed into the best social clubs. Don’t worry though, Kitty is still working on her own goals behind the scenes and the way it ties together is amazing. However, her place in this story gives readers a new respect for how much actually goes into being a part of the upper crust crowd in this part of the world.
- Colette and Carlton: This duo is made up of Carlton, Rachel’s half-brother, and his…girlfriend? Not girlfriend? It’s complicated and I’m calling her his lover. These two embody the new generation and their spending practices. They spend on whatever they what and often make quite the show of it with random shopping trips to Paris, air conditioned yards (no I’m not joking) and more. Carlton and Colette stand as the contrast to the older generation who is either much more careful about their spending or much quieter (examples include huge stocks of rip-off items or private shopping sprees that no one would ever know about).
All of this is wrapped up into very intriguing story-telling and a slightly different writing style than Kwan used before. In this second book readers see emails, magazine columns, text messages and more to give them a better view of what is going on and how the characters are interacting. It is an interesting change that added to the gossip column feel of the tale but also seemed to help keep the story as engaging and subtly meaningful as the first.
To wrap up, I want to give my kudos to Kwan for another job well-done. I can’t wait for the third book and seriously if you haven’t read the first go check it out. These stories are great summer reads!
Want to see my review of the first book? Go here →The fascinating world of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’