Others Were Emeralds

Cover of "Others Were Emeralds" by Lang Leav
Lang Leav
Nov 13, 2023

Hello and welcome to this week's edition of #NoWaitWednesday, where we look at a title on the New Release shelf at one of our Library branches that's just waiting for a lucky patron to check it out - all without worrying about a lengthy waiting list. 

Others Were Emeralds is the debut adult coming-of-age novel by internationally acclaimed writer and poet Lang Leav. A stunning novel about guilt, friendship, and loss, this story will move readers who love insightful and lush writing from authors like Etaf Rum or Ocean Vuong. The story begins in the 1990s with Ai, the daughter of Cambodian refugees who fled their war-torn country and settled in small-town Australia to rebuild their shattered lives. Her friend group is a small but a tight-knit one, likewise populated by second-generation Asian immigrants who are trying to find their own way in a place far different from where their parents were from - which is difficult all its own, but made even more so by the arrival of adolescence and the difficulties of navigating secondary school.

The novel is primarily character-driven with the author focusing on the multilayered, invisible, and sometimes painful teen relationships between Ai and the prettier and more charismatic Brigitte, the politically-minded Sying, and the shy, withdrawn Tin, among others. A series of misunderstandings drives the friends further apart and those friendship are eventually shattered when an encounter with some local racist teen boys inflamed by the anti-Asian prejudice that swept Australia goes horribly wrong. Afterward, Ai graduates and goes off to Sydney for college, still haunted by the memories of her hometown, however a breakdown during her second year causes her to come back and confront her past and reconnect with those she thought she left behind, and she realizes that both time and distance have altered everyone's points of view.

Leav's poetry background shines, as the words and phrases she artfully selects cut to the core of each of the characters - she can present an array of emotions by just a few words or a gesture from one of her cast. Coming in at just under 300 pages, this novel is ideal for a reader who likes the thought of a meaty read but might be scared away by the length (and heft) of similarly themed novels. Leav skillfully cuts all traces of fat, leaving an impeccably tailored, insightful novel that bridges the gap between Teen and Adult audiences. 

Place your holds! Thanks, as always, for reading, and we'll see you next week. 

Reviewed by Gregg W.
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