High school student Frances Wong lives with her mother in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Her mother works hard to put Frances through private school, and constantly dreams of the day her daughter will grow up to be a doctor so she can afford to take care of her mother. Frances works hard to show filial dedication to her mother, as their Chinese culture dictates.
All this changes when Frances accidentally gets put in Speech instead of Calculus at school. Rather than switching to the correct class, Frances is intrigued by her new teacher and the possibility of competing in Speech. She knows her mother would never approve, so she begins lying to prevent her from finding out.
Frances begins to blossom, seeing for the first time the possibility of a life not bound to her demanding and abusive mother. At home, as her lies come to light, her mother becomes more controlling and abusive, both verbally and physically. Frances’ evolution is beautifully illustrated by the changing topics of her speeches over the course of the novel, starting with her acceptance of her culture’s filial piety, and ending with her own desire to explore the world and be her own person even if this is not what her mother wishes.
–Amanda Coppedge Bosky