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Review of Central Places by Delia Cai

This is a fast-paced debut all about love, family, self-understanding and belonging. Recently-engaged couple Audrey and Ben visit Audrey’s hometown for the Christmas break, much to Audrey’s dread and Ben’s insistence.  Audrey, the only daughter to Chinese parents, was raised in Hickory Grove which is the epitome of middle America and a location she hasn’t returned to since she left for college. The longer Audrey and Ben spend in Hickory Grove, the more things between them seem to change. Ben’s once endearing all-American happy-family persona suddenly feels out of place, and their relationship  unexpectedly begins to unravel. 

Cai keeps the pace and tension driving the story throughout. With echoes of Cecilia Rabess’ Everything’s Fine, a debut I reviewed earlier this year, Central Places effectively highlights cultural racism, both covert and overt. It makes its point consistently throughout the plot, rather than hitting you over the head in one single blow, which I felt had a more impactful effect as a result.

Central Places makes you reconsider your childhood, how brutal being a teenager can be and how tough it can be growing up in difficult family circumstances, but ultimately this strong debut reminds you that family is what matters most.  

Review by Helen.

Central Places was published on 23/11/23 by Merky Books.

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