We all know Asian aunties are awesome, and in Dial A For Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutanto asks the all-important question: Would your aunties cover up a(n accidental) murder for you?
This book was an absolute delight, from page one all the way to the very end. It’s absolutely, ridiculously absurd, so leave your disbelief at the door, and turn yourself over completely to enjoying the ride. Beyond the humour, Dial A For Aunties is also very much full of heart. Meddy Chan and her aunties are all ride-or-die for each other, and as odd as it may be to think about a book with a murderous cover-up, this is a really sweet and heartwarming family novel.
It all begins with Meddy’s mom sets her up on a blind date, who turns out to be a handsy a-hole. Meddy accidentally kills him in self-defence, and her mom and aunties leap to help her dispose of the body. Except that it’s bad luck to hold a funeral before the wedding, and the blind date happens on the eve of a major wedding that the family will be attending. The five women run a wedding business — “Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!” Big Aunt bakes the wedding cake, Second Aunt does the hair and makeup, Meddy’s mom does the flowers, Fourth Aunt provides the entertainment, and Meddy is the photographer.
To avoid bad luck for the bride and groom, Meddy and her aunts decide to hide the body in one of Big Aunt’s coolers, and wait till the wedding is over before burying it. Except that Big Aunt oversleeps, and the cooler with the body is sent to the wedding’s island venue along with the other coolers that hold the actual cake. Their attempts to get the body back before their crime is discovered are hilarious! It’s one madcap caper after another, with sibling rivalry going head to head with common sense (guess which wins?), and the aunties’ various schemes getting ever more absurd as the wedding day unfolds. The novel begins with the burning question — will Meddy and her aunties get away with murder? But the more you see them in action, the more confident you become in their ability to outsmart, well, everyone else. These aunties deserve all our applause, and best of all, Meddy also eventually comes into her own and discovers her inner Asian auntie, which just about rounds all five women into a kickass, formidable team.
I also love the romance. Meddy has grown up knowing all about the family curse, where the men in their family either leaving or dying in unlucky circumstances. She’s too savvy to believe it, exactly, but then lives out her version of the curse when she breaks up with her college boyfriend Nathan before graduation. The wedding reunites Meddy with Nathan, and the feelings between them have clearly not diminished with time. The development of their relationship in this novel, interspersed as it is with the murder cover-up and wedding day drama, is really sweet, and by the end, we see not just how good Nathan and Meddy are together, but also how wonderfully Nathan will fit in with Meddy’s family. There’s also a wonderful conversation between Meddy and her mom about the family curse, which was just heart-meltingly sweet.
Beyond all this, I love how absolutely steeped in Asian and Asian-diaspora culture this is. There are the little comedic touches, like the groom being named Tom Cruise Sutanto, which I love because it’s so very Asian. But also, there are a lot of books that tackle the sense of displacement Asian immigrants feel when living in America, so I very much appreciate how the author also explores the cross-cultural identities in Asian families immigrating within Asia, and the further complexities of identities when these families then move to America. The Chans are Chinese immigrants in Indonesia, who then immigrate to Los Angeles. At the most basic, yet also very telling, of levels, this means that Meddy is most comfortable with English and her attempts at Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesian hurt her aunties’ ears, while her mom and aunties are most comfortable with varying mixtures of Mandarin and Indonesian, and have varying degrees of fluency with English. It’s a simple detail, but one that plays out in beautifully complex ways that reveal so much about each woman’s identities and relationships to various aspects of their heritage.
This is a wonderful, delightful book, and I’m so thrilled to have met Meddy and her aunties. Even better? From the author’s note, the book is being adapted for a Netflix movie, and from the excerpt at the end, there will be an equally hilarious and heartwarming sequel.
This book comes to me courtesy of Another Story Bookshop and a gift card from Penguin Random House Canada, which I won at an online contest to celebrate independent bookstores and the important work they do. In gratitude for this opportunity to read such a wonderful story as Dial A For Aunties, I invite you to check out this map that Penguin Random House Canada has compiled of independent bookstores across Canada. Find your local indie and show it some love!