ARC · Book Review

Sour Heart – Jenny Zhang

Release: August 1st, 2017

“A debut story collection that plunges readers into the hearts of adolescent girls growing up in New York City, from poet and National Magazine Award nominee Jenny Zhang.

Centered on a community of immigrants who have traded their endangered lives as artists in China and Taiwan for the constant struggle of life at the poverty line in 1990s New York City, Zhang’s exhilarating collection examines the many ways that family and history can weigh us down and also lift us up.” (Goodreads)


Well, this review is going to be slightly different. Since I quit the book at about 22% I would usually wait and talk about it with under the D.N.F. Files, but this was a NetGalley ARC, so I feel I should give Sour Heart it’s own separate review.

My thoughts are not on the whole book, so if you were really excited to read this book then I would advise reading a couple different reviews (both positive and negative) to see if you still wish to give Sour Heart a chance.

Now that that’s out of the way… This book was 100% not for me. I went into Sour Heart excited because the other refugee/immigrant stories I read earlier this year were fantastic, and I was excited to see other points of view. And to be honest it was this excitement that kept me going as far as I did, because I wanted to quit pretty early on.

The first story, ‘We Love You Crispina’, starts off with a series of horribly shocking elements that the narrator’s small Chinese family has had to deal with while living in deep poverty. I was gagging by the second page, it was so intense (also my deep hatred for cockroaches didn’t help). The vomit eating story almost did me in. I don’t mind reading about terrible things, but personally I need there to be story, characters, for me to care about. This was just one horrifying anecdote after another.

Halfway through, when the story settled down, I finally got a sense who this family was, when the 9 year old narrator, Christina, describes skipping school to go with her father to his workplace at a high school. But then the story dives right back into a series of unfortunate events.

I’m not saying that a book can’t cover how horrible poverty can be, but the subject matter was way too much for a short story. This should’ve been a longer book where these horrid events could’ve been spread out, placed within the context of a story with character development. Instead, I was just given a list of one shocking thing after another.

I decided to give the next story a try, ‘The Empty the Empty the Empty’ and got about halfway through. The narrator is a different 9 year old Chinese girl, Lucy, whose family is in much better circumstances than the previous. I know 9 year olds can be selfish, but this girl took the cake, going on and on about how pretty she was. Being stuck in a spoiled brat’s head is tiresome, but what really disturbed me was how over-sexualized everything was between her and her other NINE YEAR OLD classmates.

I tossed the book down when the author decided to go into detail about how Lucy and her friend were sexually exploring each other’s bodies. I know children explore, but the details just KEPT GOING! So I was done.

I know others have positively reviewed Sour Heart, and there are a few gems here, but between the issues listed above and the writing style (run-on sentences galore), I think short story collections about the immigrant experience has been done to better effect.

Score: DNF

*Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the free ARC of Sour Heart, in exchange for a honest review.


2 thoughts on “Sour Heart – Jenny Zhang

  1. I can totally understand why you didn’t finish – there is something quite shocking about the content of the writing in this collection which I think will turn off a lot of people. I thought the writing was incredible though!


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