Book Review: Not THAT Rich

The Fiction Addiction
Not That Rich(novel cover art from the publisher)

Not THAT Rich seemed like it would be perfect for me. I love high school dramas, manners novels, and Chinese-American fiction, so a story about a cheating scandal at a wealthy California prep school seemed perfect. The pressure of college apps, with the added pressure of extra competitive parents, the stress of being new-luxury-car rich, next to new-building-at-an-Ivy rich classmates, and the competitive shopping and dressing, without showing off of course.  There's so much here! And, ok, like so many other underpaid teachers, I have my own experience getting fuerdai students through their exams (Er, not in the cheating way, I mean cram sessions for cash, geez), so I was really excited to read this.

As we explore the community around a test scandal, there are some great scenes mixed into the awkward plot exposition. There's a really delightful moment of the aunties eating Lady M cakes, while moaning about calories in an American way and making sure no one left even the slightest bit hungry in a Chinese way. The test scandal resolves in a fun, surprising way that pokes fun at the testing grind.  There were also a few moments of genuine affection in the high school relationships, but most of those are missed in favor of simply informing that reader that two people had been best friends forever. Unfortunately, the dialogue is never great in Not THAT Rich, with plot exposition awkwardly expressed through unnatural, bland phrasing.

Overall, though, the book was just... fine. Through the whole novel, I wanted more depth. The baddies are irredeemably bad, and get their punishment directly. Wealth is conveyed a bit too directly through price tags, not the subtle choices and quiet commentary that make a good manners novel work.

This was such a frustrating read for me because I felt like I was reading a rough draft for a truly great novel. There's real potential in this story of exactly how much the rich SGV kids can get away with and what they can't, and with a little more nuance, this could have lived up to that appealing "Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians" tagline. I got signs of intriguing relationships and complex situations in this world, but they were never fully explored. 

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