Hua Hsu, whose parents moved from Taiwan to the United States before he was born, handily distills the immigrant experience in Stay True: "The first generation thinks about survival; the ones that follow tell the stories." In his memoir, fueled by nostalgia but free of sentimentality, Hsu tells lots of stories--about friendship, assimilation, grief--but they are all in service to the book's throughline: the story of Hsu finding his voice.
Hsu was born in Illinois in 1977. During his first year at Berkeley, the self-serious Hsu ("I had a fraught relationship with fun") meets the cocksure Ken, who is hardly a logical friendship match: "He was a genre of person I actively avoided--mainstream." But Ken is also a great guy and a fellow Asian American who, intriguingly to Hsu, experienced the world much differently: as a Japanese American, Ken "felt some claim to American culture that I couldn't imagine."
A tragic event occurs about halfway into Stay True, and it changes Hsu's life and recalibrates the narrative strands already in progress. Hsu (A Floating Chinaman) brings readers a coming-of-age memoir with both an iridescent specificity and a haunting universality. About early adulthood he writes, "you're eager for something to happen, passing time in parking lots, hands deep in your pockets, trying to figure out where to go next. Life happened elsewhere, it was simply a matter of finding a map that led there." For some readers Stay True will offer, if not a map, then the suggestion of a path forward. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer