Image by Capri Huffman
Having much of my background in common with Stephanie Foo, I may be a biased observer here. Still, I believe anyone — though especially any children of Asian immigrants, and perhaps immigrants more broadly — could benefit from reading this book.
What My Bones Know is a memoir comprising one of my new favorite subgenres: creative nonfiction that combines research with personal narrative, incorporating scientific, historical, and/or cultural context into a telling of deep emotional truths. I could recommend a number of books with this format (Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller, Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, Hysterical by Elissa Bassist) and plan to read several more (next on the list are Sabrina Imbler’s How Far the Light Reaches and Meghan O’Gieblyn’s God Human Animal Machine), because I often find these works to be both moving and persuasive, able to convey difficult personal stories alongside information that will allow readers to understand a wider societal context. This sort of persuasion leverages the vulnerable and even unreliable tendencies of the memoir genre to depict the author’s personal truths and their subsequent societal analysis, while simultaneously offering readers an honest view of the biases to which their life experiences may have predisposed them.
Stephanie Foo’s impressive journalistic chops (she used to report for NPR) mean both the factual research and the narrative telling in this particular volume are impeccable. What My Bones Know does an incredible job, at not only telling the story of the author’s own horrific parental abuse, and her difficult journey to managing her resultant Complex PTSD; the book also conveys the complex and underreported social and historical context in which her abuse occurred. Foo grew up in the Silicon Valley suburbs, an area famously ripe with East and South Asian immigrants, and it was common knowledge at school that many, many of her classmates were also being abused by their parents. Yet, in the popular imagination, Asian children rare perceived as quiet, high-achieving students, who are sadly occasionally suicidal because of all that pressure to earn violin scholarships and perfect SAT scores. Foo’s book blows open the reality of abuse that many first-generation Asian children experience, as well as the silence that surrounds it, while remaining understanding of the cultures and traumas their (and her) parents came from which may have contributed to their abusive behaviors. The book doesn’t forgive such behavior, but acknowledges that it comes from a place of real pain and trauma that, like her own, must be addressed.
Overall, I would recommend What My Bones Know to anyone, not just because the author’s journey toward recovery is well written, and moving; not just because the book may be relatable to many more children of immigrants than we think; but also because it opens up an important conversation about generational trauma and abuse in immigrant communities that is, at this point, urgently overdue.
My name is Capri Huffman and I run a book-themed Instagram (@sobstorybooks) with my friend Gabby, reviewing and promoting books by LGBTQ and BIPOC authors. My goal with my new book review series here at Mixed Mag is the same: to help great books by marginalized authors find the audiences they deserve! I follow new releases from all genres, from YA to literary fiction to poetry, so I’m sure together we’ll find some great titles to suit any taste.