Love & Resistance | Kara H.L. Chen


Love & Resistance by Kara H.L. Chen

Out Now from Quill Tree Books; 352 pages

Content Warning: Bullying, racism, parental abandonment

About the Author: “Kara H.L. Chen grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, where she once had to shovel snow off her car with a plastic trash can. She now lives on the West Coast with her husband and daughters, and is learning how to use an Instapot. She has undergraduate degrees in English and economics, a J.D., and a MFA in fiction. She has used her economics degree exactly once, when she tried to make a joke about marginal costs and marginal returns. It did not go well” (Bio from author’s website).

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“The most successful outsiders are those who can keep their exposed sides minimized and protected, kind of like countries in the middle of a land war.”

Introverts unite as political science meets high school drama in Kara H.L. Chen’s YA debut. As the Taiwanese-American daughter of a military lawyer, Olivia Chang has perfected the art of flying under the radar as a self-proclaimed “isolationist” while she repeatedly navigates new schools. Though she expects to spend her time at Plainstown High quietly avoiding attention, she befriends fellow loner Alexander “Griff” Griffin, who happens to be a part of a secret society called the Nerd Net. After Olivia becomes the target of popular mean girl Mitzi, the Nerd Net doubles down on their mission of aiding victims of bullying at Plainstown High. Olivia reluctantly joins their crusade after Mitzi’s racist attacks, hoping the school can unite to end Mitzi’s reign. Will she be able to take down Mitzi’s regime from the outside, or will she be forced to make some alliances to achieve her goals of toppling Plainstown’s social hierarchy? 

I enjoyed the well-crafted parallels between the political systems of Plainstown High and actual historical governments, as well as Olivia’s poignant and realistic interactions with her mother. Further, I was moved by Olivia’s bond with Will, the other Asian member of the Nerd Net. Though the characters had distinctly different reactions to the racism they faced, there was a constant sense of solidarity. Chen gave Olivia space to grow throughout the book as she transformed from a silent bystander to an outspoken activist. While I appreciate a flawed protagonist, Oliva borders on being unlikable. She thinks she is self-aware, but she rarely acknowledges her worst flaws, including her lack of sympathy and empathy. I constantly questioned Olivia’s actions, including her  proposals to bully the bully and make the school more “inclusive” by intentionally excluding popular people. My biggest issue with this book was that the story was not plausible enough to keep the reader immersed. The entire student body and school staff permit and/or promote overt racism. Even the Nerd Net members, who talk constantly about creating change, are bystanders in most situations. I also found the romantic relationships between all the Nerd Net characters to be unrealistic. Why do they pair up perfectly, and why do they all kiss in front of each other? The concept of intertwining high school social issues with political ideologies is clever, but the implausibility of the plot and the character relationships limited this novel’s impact. 

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio for sending us a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.)

PRR Assistant Director, Ashley Amacher