Hello friends and welcome to Moral of the Story! Today, we’re going to discuss about Parachutes by Kelly Yang, a tearful story about two teenagers who have to deal with the same issues and trauma. As I wrote this post, I was still overwhelmed with emotion that is mixed in between good and bad; I’m happy and angry at the same time. I’m proud of both Claire and Dani, but feel really sad of everything that happened to them.
With the amount of issues Kelly Yang brought to her book, she’s done a great job for not making her readers feel like she shove everything down our throats. Let me tell you something; there are a lot of issues going on in Parachutes that I know high school and college aged readers can relate to. These issues, however, are often overlooked by adults because they normalize them and expect us to do the same—and they will be explored more below. But, before I start, I’m going to list the trigger warnings for Parachutes: rape, sexual harassment, pedophilia, racism and discrimination. Now, onto the review!
by Kelly Yang
Expected publication: 26 May 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
young adult | contemporary
They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.
Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.
Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.
REVIEW AND ANALYSIS
I received digital copy review from Katherine Tegen Books via Edelweiss+. This does not affect my review in any way; all opinions are my own.
Claire and Dani came from different backgrounds which caused them to become each other’s polar opposite. Since the very beginning, I just know Kelly Yang wouldn’t pull the queen bee & sidekick trope—and I’m grateful for it! Often, the queen bee & sidekick trope erases one character and makes them less meaningful. This is not the case of Claire and Dani, because they have their own story to tell and they’re equally important.
Dani De La Cruz is a scholarship student living with her mother in East Covina, California, where she is a part of her school’s debate team and has a big dream to be the first woman in her family to attend university. After school, she works as a maid for her wealthy classmates’ families. Dani is really impressive with her speech and debate, often getting praise from her coach. I adore Dani’s principle and ambition to get into Yale; to always try upholding justice.
As time passes, Dani unconsciously starts generalizing all rich people; painting them in as a spoiled, corrupted brat. So when her mother decides to become a host family, Dani is upset—especially when her mother treats Claire as a royalty. She thinks of Claire as an intruder, not a new friend.
Claire Wang comes from a wealthy and privileged family in Shanghai, China. When she arrives as a new parachute in her school, Claire is instantly drawn into a “Crazy Rich Asians” crowd. Here, we get to explore Claire’s personality and character more. Despite the stereotype of rich people often buying their success rather than achieving it, Claire is working very hard to get a good grade. She is against cheating and corruption—even when her parents encourage her to do so.
Claire shows a great disappointment due to the lack of competition her new school has. Like Dani, Claire is someone who is trying to uphold justice in her school. There are few things people normalize in America which don’t sit well with her, causing her to speak up about the issues—sometimes she has to speak against her own parents.
Although, Claire can be insensitive sometimes. Claire is used to having helpers around the house to do house chores, to the point that she complains about her current living condition and unconsciously expects Dani and her mother to clean up her mess.
In the beginning, they start off as two different stories, but then they overlap that leads us to the climax of the book. I must admit that Claire and Dani are both toxic for each other due to their own judgment, but I’m glad they sort their problem and talk it out. Their relationship is complicated, but that’s what makes the story more interesting. Few times one of them upset the other, other times they helped each other. Dani and Claire are frenemies that become friends after the universe puts them both in a similar situation where they come to the conclusion that at the end of the day, they’re not different after all.
Both of them have to navigate the world full of issues people seem to normalize at this point. Of course, they have their own way to navigate it—that I won’t explain how because then I will be spoiling the whole book. Instead, here are few issues Kelly Yang brought to Parachutes.
THE POOR VS. THE RICH
In today’s society, we treat people who are above us like royalty and at the same time curse them for not doing anything while most of the population on earth is dying from hunger. This issue alone can be shown in the way Dani and her mother treats Claire—it’s a mirror of our society where we both love and hate wealthy people. People wish they lived the life of other people, but criticize their every move. Sometimes because they’re just ignorant, sometimes it comes from pure jealousy.
The rich, however, sometimes love to look down at others and put them in various boxes based on their social status, race, skin color, religion, sexuality and education. In Parachutes, it’s clear that Dani’s classmates and Claire’s friends and mother look down at people below by treating them differently. Dani always gets a reminder that she is a scholarship student, while one of Claire’s friends easily judges other classmates.
This example can also be seen in Mean Girls; where everyone secretly hates Regina George but praises her at the same time, and Regina tries to maintain her Alpha Female status and feel like everyone is less superior than her.
PRIVILEGE AND THE ABUSE OF POWER
This book screams privilege makes everything easier so bad. We’re introduced to both wealthy and poor characters and see how they are treated by the society. Dani and Claire come from different social classes with different privileges. The former has to work after school, while the later carries an AMEX card.
Unlike other students in her debate team, Dani doesn’t have a privilege to have a private debate coach. And unlike Claire, Dani is considered less important by the school’s staff—it can be seen on how the staff treat Dani’s and Claire’s trauma. I feel like, if your student shares their experience with your student or staff, you should treat them equally, no matter how much money they provide to your school. While reading how different they are treated, I was angry. It feels like Dani is not as important as Claire just because she is a scholarship student.
Privilege makes people more valuable. Some people just have to mention their family’s name, and everyone is going to listen to them. Privilege is also linked with wealthiness, abuse of power and corruption. Society is so easily blinded with money; you can tell people what to do as long as you provide them with enough money. This form of abuse of power happens a lot of time throughout the book which mirrors to the events in today’s society; such as teachers abusing their power over students, leaders using their position to oppress their workers, rich people bribe others with money to do what they want, threatening others to put them in place, etc.
Both Dani and Claire are the victims of power abuse. While speaking up about their trauma, people who have power over them try to shut them up and put them in place. How? Bribing them with money, guilt-tripping them, making them invisible, and turning everyone against them.
DISCRIMINATION AND RACISM
Quoting from the author’s note, China currently sends the greatest number of international students to US high school, where the students are struggling with loneliness, alienation, or worse. I can’t speak on the behalf of Chinese students in the US on how they feel about their situation, but Parachutes shows me how they are treated in the school. In the book, these international students attend different classes from the local students, sometimes the classes are easier.
This is something Claire is not expecting when she’s enrolled in the American high school. What makes me sad is how the teachers do nothing to stop the discrimination international students have to face. One teacher even banned students to speak their native language in the school—that’s so messed up to begin with.
I talked to my friend who is also an international student and I can say that she experienced the same issue as Claire; how the ‘English’ class for international students is totally different from regular English classes. It’s like, international students are fragile things that are easily broken if we put so much pressure on them—when in reality, they are capable of doing things just easily.
The racism Claire and Dani have to face on a daily basis makes me sigh real hard. Sometimes I wonder why white people feel superior while in reality they can’t even differentiate each race and ethnic groups—I mean, they think all Asians are the same! Seriously though, please do your homework and stop being racist in the first place, maybe?
#METOO MOVEMENT AND RAPE CULTURE
These two are the main theme of the book. I appreciate Kelly Yang for creating a story that focuses on the #MeToo movement that feels relatable to today’s society. This is why I see Parachutes as a realistic fiction, because of how relevant it is. Dani’s and Claire’s stories reflect the experiences of so many students all over the world. According to UNICEF, approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced sexual assault at some point in their life. In 2015, 23% of female undergraduate students reported having experience sexual assault in a survey across 27 universities in United States. Many teachers who condone predatory actions get dismissed and rehired without consequences.
Kelly Yang captured the horrible truth of sexual assault, and the way people with power and privilege silencing the survivors’ voice and keep it under their hat. She handled the subject with compassion and honesty; Kelly Yang did not sugarcoat the harsh truth about rape culture where people put the blame on the survivor instead of the rapist. Every scene that happened after the incident really portrays how society is likely to ask what you wear, why don’t you fight back instead of questioning why the assault happened.
MY ISSUE WITH THE BOOK
I agree that Parachutes is an empowering book, but there is one issue that doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m not speaking on anyone’s behalf. But, the idea of Dani—a Filipino—as the helper is something I expect could’ve been avoided. For a long time, the media often portrayed Southeast Asians (especially Filipino, Indonesian, Thai and Burmese) as the helpers for more wealthy Asia families. In Dani’s case, her mother was once a helper for a family in Hong Kong. Then, they become a maid for Dani’s classmates and a host family for Claire, a girl who comes from a rich family in China.
Although, the media portrayal is a result of real-life foreigner domestic workers is still happening in few countries in Asia. For example, in 2019 alone there were 400,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong; 48% came from the Philippines, 49.4% from Indonesia and 1.3% from Thailand. The condition of foreign domestic workers often criticized as a modern slavery. In October 2018, an Indonesian domestic worker was executed in Saudi Arabia, followed by the death of Filipino domestic worker in Kuwait in December 2019—these are just two examples of many cases regarding domestic workers.
I think this is one of the issues Kelly Yang tries to shed some light on and it’s not necessarily problematic for her to do that, but I think we’ve had enough stereotypical stuff about Southeast Asian being the maid or helper. Deep down, I actually wish Kelly Yang also explores more about the domestic worker issue because I don’t see many people talk about it.
But, as a Southeast Asian myself, who hasn’t seen enough representation in the media; I just wish, authors stop portraying us as mere helpers without further exploration of the issue.
Despite the issue I have with the book and how hard it was to read it, I would recommend Parachutes for everyone, but please make sure you’re in the right head-space to read this book. Because it can be triggering and upsetting for some people.
 UNICEF (2017). “A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents“, p. 73, 82.
 Cantor, D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Townsend, R., Lee, H., Bruce, C., and Thomas, G. (2015). “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct“, p.13, 35.
 Elizabeth A. Harris (2018). “At Hotchkiss School, Sexual Misconduct and ‘Missed Opportunities’ to Stop It”. New York Times.
 Bong Miquiabas (2015). “After Another Nightmare Surfaces in Hong Kong’s Domestic Worker Community, Will Anything Change?”. Forbes.
 Nicola Smith (2018). “Indonesia protests after Saudi Arabia executes domestic maid”. The Telegraph.
 Eimor Santos (2020). “Employers of slain OFW in Kuwait charged with murder”. CNN Philippines.