Rummanah Aasi
 Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request—never look back.
   Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do--comedy--and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for until one day he starts a Chinese Club after school and Serene walks in. Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.

Review: After reading and enjoying several of books by Kelly Yang, I have become a fan. I immediately added Private Label to my reading pile without paying much attention to the book's description. This is a heavy read, but despite its heaviness I did find it thought provoking and enjoyable. 
  Like her other books thus far, Yang explores the themes of gender, racism, class, and identity. Serene and Lian both identify as Chinese Americans though they express themselves very differently. Serene has more or less assimilated to her mostly white affluent community and school. Due to her mother's well known designer brand and the fact that she can give designer clothes to friends and has the most popular boy as a boyfriend, she is accepted at the top of her school's social circles. Lian comes from a traditional, middle class Chinese family in which he is pushed to succeed in the STEM field and get into a cutthroat early admissions engineering program at MIT though he dreams of being a stand-up comic. Where Serene is at the top, Lian is constantly ridiculed and singled out for his "Asian-ness". 
    Serene's and Lian's worlds collide when Serene receives the life altering news that her mother has been diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer and she wants to reach out to her elusive father who lives overseas. Serene seeks out Lian's help through his Chinese club at school by learning Chinese though his club is actually a ruse for him to carve out private space to practice his stand-up for a local competition. I really enjoyed watching Serene's and Lian's relationship grow. They find acceptance, solace, and support in one another. It is their romance that buoys the novel that would otherwise be too dark. I found their conversation surrounding assimilation to be enlightening and often mirroring that of my own experience.
  Fashion does play a prominent role in the book, though I would argue it is less of a slapstick like "Devil Wears Prada" which is what the book comparison calls for. I loved the idea of embracing ones culture and expressing that in the fashion. I did, however, have to suspended my disbelief that a teen would take over her mother's brand, but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. I thought it was a nice touch of Serene's journey of self discovery. If you are looking for a realistic fiction novel with vibrant characters and that balances the heaviness of coming of age with a romantic subplot do check this book out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of racial microaggressions, sexting, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tan, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
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