Review | Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan

29864343Kevin Kwan’s crazy rich Asians are back! In this third instalment of the series, the family comedy takes a more bittersweet tone, as the Shang-Young matriarch Shang Su Yi lies on her deathbed. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend lampooned the lifestyles of the rich and wealthy by presenting it through the perspective of an outsider thrust into that world, Rich People Problems discards the outsider’s surprise altogether and makes us see the human beings within the wealth. Whether it’s dealing with the potential loss of a loved one or fighting to keep the family’s legacy alive, these “crazy rich” are people whom we “crazy not-rich” can easily relate to. Rich People Problems packs an emotional wallop while still maintaining Kwan’s signature light-hearted comedy, and is by far my favourite book in the series.

It was fantastic to revisit all these characters I’ve grown to love (or love to hate) since Book 1, and most significant of all is Su Yi herself. We’ve always known her as the grand dame of Tyersall Park, incredibly wealthy and powerful, surrounded by an army of servants so that she never needs to so much as lift a finger to do any slightest bit of work. She’s always come across as regal and imposing, so the very idea of her dying seems almost impossible. Yet in Rich People’s Problems, as she lays on her deathbed, we finally get a glimpse into Su Yi herself and the incredible, sometimes tragic, life she led. She grew up during the war, and I liked reading about her family’s experiences living in fear of Japanese soldiers, mostly because it reminded me of my own grandmother’s stories, but also because these experiences stand in such sharp contrast to the luxurious lives she has built for multiple generations of Shangs and Youngs. I also enjoyed reading about her happier moments, such as travelling to India and falling in love, because it was a nice balance to what she and her family went through in the war. I’d personally love to read a whole novel just about Su Yi and the people in her life, so I’m in if Kevin Kwan ever wants to do a Crazy Rich Asians prequel.

Despite the sombre premise, Rich People Problems is still comfortingly hilarious. Kitty Pong, the former soap star who keeps marrying up, takes the comedic centre stage as she competes with her own stepdaughter, famous fashionista Collette Bing, for top spot in the upper echelons of Asian society. As Colette’s faux humility continues to overshadow Kitty’s dramatic gestures, Kitty’s schemes just get increasingly over-the-top until it all comes to a fittingly dramatic showdown that intersects with the Shang-Young clan’s story.

The hilariously boorish Eddie Chung also provides comedic gold within the main storyline. As family members from around the world fly back to say their goodbyes to Su Ying… and to grasp one last chance at inheriting the family estate Tyersall Park, Eddie schemes to become the heir, which involves having favoured grandchildren Nick and Astrid banned from Tyersall Park. Eddie’s antics are as annoying and entertaining as always, and it’s soapy fun to see his desperate efforts for his grandmother’s fortune.

Nick and Astrid, of course, have long been the heart of Kwan’s series. The main storyline centres on Nick’s American-born Chinese girlfriend, later wife, Rachel adjusting to his family’s wealth, and a major subplot involves Astrid dealing with her husband Michael’s insecurity over finances whilst her ex-boyfriend Charlie quietly pines for her from the sidelines. In Rich People Problems, Nick yearns to see his beloved grandmother before she dies, but hesitates because of their years-long estrangement over Su Yi’s disapproval of his marriage to Rachel. His mother, the irrepressible Eleanor Young, is eager to help smooth the reconciliation, mostly so that Nick can be reinstated as the heir to Tyersall Hall, which adds a welcome dose of comedy to this plot line. But it’s Nick’s pain over his strained relationship with his grandmother that propels this story, and makes you root for him.

I’ve always found Astrid’s relationship with Charlie incredibly romantic, so I’m thrilled to see them officially dating at the beginning of Rich People Problems. Unfortunately, Michael isn’t ready to let her go without a hefty settlement, and his schemes put her reputation and social standing at risk. For the first time in the series, Astrid’s story faded somewhat into the background for me. I suppose I enjoy the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between her and Charlie more than this final, mostly inconvenient, snag before a happily ever after. Still, Astrid continues to be one of my favourite characters, and it was great seeing her character develop in this novel, as she learns to forge her own identity beyond just the Leong family heiress and society It Girl.

I’ve long been a fan of the Crazy Rich Asians series and am nowhere near ready for it to end. I’m not sure if the series will continue past Rich People Problems, but if it doesn’t, Kwan couldn’t have written a more fitting conclusion. I actually teared up a bit while reading it, which is quite an achievement for a series so noted for its comedy, and that’s just a testament to Kwan’s skill that he makes us care deeply for his characters even as we laugh at their antics. I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to Nick, Rachel, Astrid and all the other characters in this world (yes, even Eddie); it’s been an amazing ride.

On the bright side, we now have the Crazy Rich Asians movie to look forward to. Directed by Jon M. Chu and starring an all-Asian cast, including superstars Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, this film looks amazing, and I can’t wait to see it!

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Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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