Long time listeners will remember when I received my first ever physical ARC from my favorite local indie bookstore, Linden Tree Books. Since then, we have made many a trip back to that same bookstore and my daughter now calls Grace “Auntie Grace” (and even brings her goodies, it’s seriously the cutest). So when she pulled out a copy of Love & Resistance, Kara H. L. Chen’s debut novel, and asked me to read it - zero hesitation! And y’all…Grace has never ever led me astray!
Olivia Chang, daughter of a military lawyer, has been to four different schools in the past seven years. After a harrowing experience with bullying in middle school, she has the perfect plan to never experience that again: become invisible. For years, Livvy has done everything in her power to not attract any attention and it has worked. That is, until the day that Mitzi Clarke, social media influencer and high school it-girl, makes a very pointed racist comment. Before she can connect her brain to her mouth, Livvy has stood up for herself - and ruined any chances of continuing with an invisible life. She soon joins forces with the Nerd Net, a secret society that has been trying to help the victims of bullying at their high school. The plan is simple: unite the masses and overthrow Mitzi’s mean girl regime.
When I say I couldn’t put this book down…okay, well, technically that’s a lie. I read the first three chapters and stopped to message Grace to let her know that I thought I was already in love with it. Then I watched the newest episode of Secret Invasion. But then I picked it up and couldn’t put it down until the next thing I knew, it was nearly 1am and my plans to go to bed on time in preparation for a very important meeting the next day had been blown to smithereens. NO REGRETS!
Livvy on her own is a compelling character, but pairing her with the Nerd Net brings an even more nuanced character to life. She has defined herself by the experiences of her past and it has a great impact on the way she interacts with the world around her. The thing that she doesn’t realize (and the thing that makes this book so compelling) is that everyone else around her is much the same. Every character, whether they are the bully or the bullied, has something that they are holding on to, has a hidden depth to them. While the plot is solid, it’s really the characters that drive this story forward.
Speaking of plot, it was a good balance of things that I expected and things that surprised me. As with most high school stories, there are certain archetypes that play a certain role in the story and that was no exception here. The thing that kept me enthralled and turning page after page was just how real everything felt. Of course, there are moments that are a little farfetched (I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall going to high school with a tech-savvy super hacker who was also RICH rich), but those moments were overshadowed by the fact that everything else felt so grounded in reality, especially the ending.
And the relationships! The way Kara developed the relationships between Livvy and the Nerd Net (and even within the Nerd Net itself) was masterful. It was a joy to see how the characters grew from start to finish and how their relationships did the same.
While this book was a joy overall, it’s important that I mention there are moments of casual and overt racism. Kara does not hold back on some of the awful things that can (and have) happened to Asians and Asian Americans and it can be a bit difficult (and infuriating) to read. Additionally, there are moments of intense bullying that could be triggering for someone who went through a lot of that, especially during the formative years of high school. This book does a good job of exploring and dissecting the high school experience and how one negative interaction can cause a lifetime of pain and require a lot of healing. While it was difficult (and, again, infuriating) at times to read the bullying and nastiness, Kara handled it with a grace that (I hope) will get people thinking about how they treat others (and especially how they form preconceived notions before they even interact with them).
Love & Resistance is Kara H. L. Chen’s debut novel and I’m anxiously awaiting whatever comes next! It hits shelves on July 4, 2023 and you can preorder your copy here.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will also be supporting indie bookstores like my local fave Linden Tree Books without whom this review would not be possible! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."