Review copy provided by the publisher.
Immunology! Pollution! Diaspora Chinese experience! Tiny dragons! Prickly gay guys figuring out whether they want a relationship! Cynthia Zhang’s debut is so good that I am having a hard time writing this review because mostly I want to make high pitched squealing noises while pointing at it, and while that’s very expressive of my feelings, it may not be the most helpful–or at least not the only helpful–way to review a book.
Okay, so. Eli is a mixed-race American person, Black and Chinese American, and he has chosen to do some of his postgraduate medical studies in Beijing, in a world that is a great deal like–but not identical to–ours. His grandmother’s grave is there, but his (Chinese-American) mother is still a little confused and concerned at his choice, especially because the pollution levels in alternate-Beijing are dangerous. But Eli feels drawn to the place, the people who share some but not all of his heritage, and the dragons–little semi-aquatic flying reptiles of the right size to scrap with a house cat.
And once he’s there, he feels drawn to Kai, a young dragon lover, artist, and all-around fascinating guy with a lot of defense mechanisms. Eli and Kai circle each other more warily than dragons put in a fighting ring by human gamblers as they figure out how much to push each other and what parts of “not enough to fix everything but still worth trying” they can live with. There, that sounded coherent, right? Eeeeee this is lovely, go read it when you can.