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Series Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

In the heart of Singapore there are the elusive and wealthy elite: the Youngs, the Leongs, and their myriad cousins and relatives scattered throughout Southeast Asia. When Rachel Chu is invited to spend the summer with her boyfriend, Nick Young’s family, she has no idea she’s about to walk into the lion’s den. What follows is several years of encounters with the wealthiest Singapore has to offer. The series follows Rachel Chu and her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, as they face off against Nick’s highly wealthy relatives; Astrid Leong Teo, whose happy marriage begins crumbling under the stress of her family legacy; Eddie Cheng, whose ambitions for his family remain unrealized despite his status; Kitty Pong, a newcomer to the scene who wants only the biggest and best; and a myriad of supporting characters whose ambitions, egos, greed, and wealth create more problems and drama than they solve.

What is Crazy Rich Asians about?

At its heart, this series is about the family dynamics of the most wealthy elite of Singapore–and greater Southeast Asia. The main players are Nick and Eleanor Young, Astrid Leong Teo, Rachel Chu, Kitty Pong, and Eddie Cheng. Eleanor wants the best for her son, Nick, and the best is to keep his grandmother Su Yi happy so that Nick can inherit the grand estate of Tyersall Park and all the Shang and Young wealth that Su Yi is thought to be sitting on. But Nick defies all expectations, becoming a history professor in New York and falling in love with economics professor, Rachel Chu. For Rachel’s part, she wants to be with Nick and as time goes on, she wants to find her family in China–the family her mother had to leave behind.

Genre: Contemporary Drama

Ah the drama. This series starts out close to romance with Crazy Rich Asians, but the level of soap opera drama does increase crazy fast.

Series Installments

  • Crazy Rich Asians – In the first book of the series, we meet Nick Young and Rachel Chu, as well as the other primary POV characters Eleanor Young, Astrid Leong Teo, and Eddie Cheng. Most of the cast of Nick’s extended family and his friends are introduced, showing off the extravagance and wealth that Nick grew up in while in Singapore. The events of this book focus on the wedding of Colin Khoo, childhood friend of Nick’s, and Araminta Lee. The wedding is the event of the season for Southeast Asia and brings out the worst in many of the wealthiest around.
  • China Rich Girlfriend – A dramatic car accident brings together Eleanor Young and a mainland Chinese woman whose son happens to look just like Rachel Chu. When Eleanor reunites with her son on the evening of his wedding to bring the news of his bride’s family, she sets off a series of events that draw Rachel even further into the world of insane wealth. Finally in touch with her father, and her half-brother Carlton, Rachel spends her honeymoon in Shanghai trailing after Carlton and his billionaire friends.
  • Rich People Problems – Rachel and Nick are happily married in New York and mostly take a backseat for this third installment of the series. Front and center is Shang Su Yi, the matriarch of the Young and Shang families, and Nick’s grandmother. After a heart attack, Su Yi’s life hangs in the balance and her family swoops into Tyersall Park to pay their respects, and to find out who is set to inherit her legendary fortune.

Main Characters

  • Rachel Chu – Rachel is an economics professor at NYU whose mother left mainland China for California. For the first two books, Rachel’s life takes front and center. She arrives in Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, suspecting that after a couple of years together he may be ready for marriage. Then in the second book, she is reunited with her long lost Chinese family. In the third book, Rachel definitely takes a backseat to other stories, but she’s still there with Nick in Singapore.
  • Nicholas Young – Nick, now a history professor at NYU, is the perceived heir to the Young fortune, the favorite grandson of Shang Su Yi. In the course of his relationship with Rachel he proves himself to be more down to earth and possessing simpler tastes than his wealthy family. He loves his family, but puts his relationship first when his mother and grandmother prove themselves to be too interfering.
  • Astrid Leong Teo – Astrid is the favorite child of the wealthy Leong family, an elusive and elite family tied to just about all the wealthy and elite of the world. Astrid is accustomed to attending couture fittings in Paris yearly, buying exclusive jewelry pieces from boutique designers, and keeping out of any sort of press that might focus on her father’s business ventures. Her husband, Michael Teo, is a self made CEO with very little to offer her financially, a fact that makes him bitter and unhappy in their relationship.
  • Edison Cheng – Eddie is the most status obsessed member of the extended family, and the only consistent main POV that really doesn’t ever inspire sympathy. He wants to be the best, the most elite, and is constantly competing with people who don’t realize it’s a competition–but are winning anyways.
  • Eleanor Young – Nick’s mother, Eleanor both wants what’s best for him and what’s best for the family wealth and status. She doesn’t trust Rachel, and is prone to jealousy when Nick’s attention is turned to New York instead of Singapore. But in reality, she sacrificed a lot in order to make sure Nick’s childhood was a happy one, and that he had a relationship with his grandmother.
  • Shang Su Yi – The elusive heiress of the Shangs, the matriarch of the Youngs, and the mistress of Tyersall Park. Su Yi proves to have an incredible backstory, a tender heart, and despite her calculating nature she comes around to appreciating the happiness of her grandchildren.
  • Kitty Pong – Introduced without a POV in the first book, Kitty Pong is a soap opera star (rumored to be a porn star as well) who arrives at the major wedding event of the first novel on the arm of Alistair Cheng. Her ostentatious nature, obvious gold digging, and inappropriate sense of fashion lead to Shang Su Yi instructing a family friend to get rid of her. Kitty’s sights get set on another wealthy heir, and so her story really gets rolling. In the next two novels we see Kitty’s perspective as she builds herself into quite the trophy wife, devoted mother, and hilariously volatile socialite.

The Good

This series is elite in everything. The descriptions of the locations, clothing, jewelry, artwork, homes, food, and people are rich and beautiful. The characters are well rounded with interesting flaws and features, and I enjoyed many of the interpersonal interactions they had. The dramatic stakes get higher and higher as the story progresses, and so does the extravagance. I especially love the juxtaposition between Nick and Astrid–who came out down to earth if a little indulgent–and characters like Eddie and Kitty who want more and more and more. There are a lot of lessons about indulgence, elitism, and more.

The Okay

I do wish more history had been put into the book. Between Kwan’s use of footnotes periodically and the flashback scenes in the first and third books, there’s some glimpses into Singapore’s past. Specifically characters such as Shang Su Yi describe a lot of the terrible events of the Japanese occupation, and I just wish we’d gotten more follow up on that.

The Bad

I felt that there was room for at least one more book in the series. Events seem to rush between the second and third books, and the third book wraps up too many plot lines with little neat bows. I think Kwan had more expansion to do with the characters and more to add to the plot, and he could have absolutely done a stunning fourth book in the series without the happy endings so many of the characters got feeling so sudden and rushed.

Final Thoughts

Aside from feeling slightly disappointed by the last book, this series was awesome! I love that there are characters who are objectively good and characters who are objectively not good, and the blend of their perspectives gives you a lot more of the plot and world. A lot of stuff goes down in this series, but none of it felt too over the top as it progressed in a way that made sense–despite how insane some of the wealth and extravagance being thrown around was. It was a little weird going from Rachel being arguably the main character in the first two books to taking a major backseat in the third book, and I do wish there’d been either more to the series to make that transition easier or a smoother transition from Rachel to the rest of the cast. Altogether this series is a fun time with lots of excellent descriptions, witty footnotes, and a surprising amount of depth for the way the series is presented.

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

One reply on “Series Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan”

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