This book was hard and difficult to read, which is exactly as it should be when dealing with this kind of material: a young, pregnant, first generation Korean girl in the US experiencing a complete sense of dissociation from herself, her life and her family.
Title: Pizza Girl
Author: Jean Kyoung Frazier
Publication Date: 9th June 2020
Rating: 4 stars
For such a short story, this certainly packed a punch.
About the Book
The girl who, for the most of the novel, we only know as ‘Pizza Girl’ is struggling, although she doesn’t realise it yet. At 18 she has an adoring boyfriend, has left college and is working at a pizza place. She, her mum and her boyfriend all live together in a small house and he calls her mum, ‘Mom’. But she doesn’t want to think about being pregnant, can only think about her alcoholic father, who died a year ago, even though she hates him for it, and is really only going through the motions of living.
But when stay-at-home mum Jenny calls the pizza place to ask for pickles on her son’s pizza, our protagonist feels an instant connection with her, one that she swears Jenny also feels. This leads to an increasing infatuation with Jenny, as Pizza Girl’s own life continues to spiral out of control.
This is one of those books where so much is left unsaid that it’s completely human. By that, I mean that the main character can’t identify all the things that she’s feeling and experiencing for the reader because she just doesn’t know what they are yet. However, we can see. We know what’s right and what’s wrong for her, but that doesn’t mean that she does.
I like that our Pizza Girl remains unidentified for most of the novel. For most of it, she isn’t even sure of her own identity, so this works perfectly in with it. And that, although the support she gets from her mother and boyfriend appears to be exactly what anyone would want, it’s also smothering and suffocating her – not that she’s quite aware of this.
In particular, I loved our protagonist’s increasing obsession with Jenny. There’s a lot of things wrapped up in this – the question of whether she’s actually bi, or queer – not something that she dwells on, but it seems like her boyfriend is perhaps her first male crush.
There’s also the desire for a friend who feels things just as deeply or as keenly, or just feels at all. And then there’s the need for a different kind of mother figure. Because she just doesn’t realise that she’s dissatisfied, and is fascinated by someone who she thinks is actually older than her mother.
Reading it, it’s hard to tell how much of this infatuation is in Pizza Girl’s head, and how much Jenny actually provides. Or perhaps that’s the point – they’re both searching for something but not quite the same thing, which makes Pizza Girl’s own spiral out of control feel more … logical. The main character’s own mother is obsessed with being American, and Jenny may appear to be just that, but is also the slightly more broken America that the protagonist seeks and experiences.
There are so many other things to unpick that our protagonist is too young, too experienced, or to closed off to manage: grief over her father, a feeling of being smothered by her family, being a first generation Korean immigrant, what she is and isn’t allowed to like, and especially fear over not really wanting a baby or to be pregnant, and fear of being more like her father than herself.
There’s so much going on that she can’t tease apart for herself, but it’s so arresting to read between what she can and can’t tell you herself.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.