Book Review: Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Dear Girls – Ali Wong (Random House, 2019)

Like me, you might know Ali Wong from Netflix. She has two comedy specials – Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife – and a feature length film called Always Be My Maybe. I tried a bit of Baby Cobra and found Wong’s humour too crude for my taste but I tried her again with Always Be My Maybe and enjoyed it as a cute if predictable romantic comedy. It stood out for having an almost entirely Asian-American cast (and Asian-Canadian with Keanu Reeves), something that is still entirely too rare in Hollywood.

I didn’t have much interest in reading Wong’s book but was drawn in after reading this review over at Grab the Lapels. What stood out to me was that this is a book written by Wong, as a mother, to her two daughters. Seeing as how I am also the mother of two young daughters, I decided to give it a shot.

Dear Girls falls much closer to Wong’s comedy specials than her movie in its level of crudeness. Wong talks a lot about her sex life, with a variety of partners, including her husband and father of her children. In the end, I felt like these letters were less genuine notes to her children and more a hook on which to format the story of her life. Which isn’t a bad thing and Wong writes entertainingly. She’s honest but doesn’t sell herself short. She has obviously worked hard and she goes into detail about her formative years as a comic and the work she put into it (and continues to put in). She’s funny and charming when talking about her family and her years growing up in San Francisco. We’re close to the same age so a lot of the trends and music she references were nostalgic for me too.

What I really appreciated in Dear Girls was Wong’s honesty about her experience as a mom, particularly about pregnancy and childbirth. Wong writes about how her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at eleven weeks. She writes about the dangerous condition she developed while pregnant with her oldest daughter, leading to having to be induced and followed by a c-section. She writes about the fear and the isolation and the guilt that she felt through this experience and how these are still not things that are talked about enough in our society. As someone who has had miscarriages and who also had a complicated pregnancy with my oldest, including an unexpected c-section, it’s hugely encouraging to see women begin to speak more openly about these experiences. And, of course, I had to laugh at the way Wong describes taking advantage of having had a c-section, because I may be guilty of the same thing. “I have suffered enough,” she tells her husband when it’s her turn to unload the dishwasher.

Wong also writes a great deal about her experience as an Asian-American woman. While being Asian-American doesn’t define her entire life and experiences, it is vital to who she is and it was wonderful to read about someone in the spotlight who embraced that aspect so wholeheartedly. She writes with great joy and freedom about her experiences living in Vietnam and she is unabashed in her praise and enjoyment of Asian men. While I can’t speak for others, I feel like this aspect of the book could be very encouraging for Asian readers who are still too often left out of mainstream media.

The book concludes with an afterword by Wong’s husband which was an unexpected but delightful addition. He offers a slightly different perspective on their life and marriage but what was really wonderful was how wholeheartedly he supports his wife and her career and how he seems to have completely embraced his role as the primary parent while Wong pushes ahead in comedy and Hollywood. This shouldn’t be so surprising but it is still unusual for men and perhaps even more so in traditional Asian culture.

All in all, while I wouldn’t recommend Dear Girls to everyone, it was a fun and unexpectedly thoughtful read.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Dear Girls by Ali Wong”

  1. I haven’t seen any of Wong’s work on Netflix yet but I’ve heard good things. It’s good to know she has a book out I can try if I I give her specials a shot and click with her humour.

  2. I haven’t watched her comedy specials, but I did enjoy her movie (it was one of the few I chose to watch last year, which speaks volumes!). I love that her husband has a section in the book, that’s really cute. And you’re right that Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians don’t see themselves enough in the media, that’s one reason I really enjoy following her work!

    1. Yeah, even though her humour isn’t really mine, I’m so pleased to see her doing well! As well as being the stay-at-home parent, her husband sells merchandise at her shows! They seem like an awesome couple!

  3. I think we basically came to the same conclusions after reading the memoir, which makes me wonder why Wong’s “try hard” form of comedy works, but her genuine, vulnerable self, which is still chock full of humor, isn’t what we see in the specials. Thanks for your kind words and reading this book based on my recommendation 🙂 I remember I read this book and then Kid Gloves shortly thereafter. I feel like lately the books I’m reading have weird connections that I didn’t plan on. I read Prison Baby, about a woman born in prison, then I read Moll Flanders, about a woman born in prison, then I read My Cousin Rachel, which reminded me of Moll Flander’s and her attempts to survive in a society designed for me, etc.

    1. Yes, I think we had a similar reaction. I’m not sure if it’s her preference to have that vulgar, in-your-face persona when doing comedy or if that’s what’s supposed to sell better or if there is just a broader audience for it than we might realize.

      It’s fun when it seems like there are connections between books you’re reading. Maybe you’re drawn to certain books at certain times? Or the themes are just jumping at you for some reason?

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