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Monday, May 27, 2013

Congrats, Tiger Baby, You're a Mommy. Now What?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, came out in 2011, it incensed mothers everywhere.  Including this one.  The book (which I reviewed here) chronicles Chua's experience using traditional Chinese parenting tactics to bully her kids into becoming not just straight A students, but also world-class musicians.  While Chua's oldest daughter did exactly that, her youngest put up some resistance.  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the story of that daughter's rebellion (she was 13 at the time) and how it forced Chua to examine her unyielding parenting practices against the obvious unhappiness it was producing in her child.  While this may lead you to expect a grand epiphany about motherhood, the drawbacks of stiff, too-strict parenting, and the importance of letting children be children, that's not exactly what happens.  Instead, as I noted in my review: "There's no self-deprecating humor here, no humble admittance of mistakes, just a half-hearted acknowledgment that Chua's dictatorial parenting style might not work for every child."  

So, yeah, the book definitely caused a stir.  And, even though Chua now insists the memoir is "mostly self-parody," it's difficult to see anything funny in it.  The backlash against Chua's parenting, in my opinion at least, was very well-deserved.  Naturally, then, Kim Wong Keltner's new book—a rebuttal to Chua's called Tiger Babies Strike Back—caught my attention.  I definitely wanted to hear what a real-life "Tiger Baby" had to say. 

Keltner is a Chinese-American who was raised in San Francisco by an uncompromising Tiger Mother and an equally strict father.  Between them and a host of Chinese relatives who lived in the area, Keltner grew up under a hailstorm of constant criticism, intense academic pressure, and the absolute belief that she would never—ever—be successful enough to please her family.  When Keltner brings her own daughter into the world, she vows to give the child a very different kind of upbringing, one filled with praise, affection and encouragement.  She wants to keep her daughter safe from the clutches of all Tiger Mothers, including her own.  But what if that means moving away from the only home she's ever known, alienating herself from her family and starting over in some white-washed place where Keltner and her daughter are the only Asians?  How does she give her child a healthy, balanced view of who she is without exposing her to her Chinese side, however self-deflating it might be for the little girl?  That's what Keltner has to figure out as she battles her own Tiger Mother tendencies in order to give her daughter the happy, nurturing childhood she never got to enjoy. 

While Keltner's memoir is not nearly as impassioned or provocative as Chua's, it's still an interesting examination of life under a Tiger Mother's rule.  Keltner's honest and funny, sarcastic and fierce.  Her insights into what it means to be a modern Chinese-American woman and mother are likewise so.  Still, her story's disjointed as well as just a bit over-the-top.  Plus, she whines a lot for being a stay-at-home mom of only one child.  Overall, though, I appreciated Keltner's point-of-view.  It adds another dimension to the whole Chinese-style vs. American-style parenting debate, which is, in itself, quite thought-provoking.  Not to mention infuriating.   

(Readalikes:  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua; also reminded me of The Joy-Luck Club and other books by Amy Tan)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (one F-bomb as well as a couple of others that are abbreviated, instead of spelled-out, plus milder invectives) and mild sexual innuendo/content)   

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Tiger Babies Strike Back from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!         



  1. Susan, I stopped be earlier but ran out of time to leave a comment.

    Your review is quite different than mine (which I've just posted). I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Tiger Babies.

  2. "thought-provoking" is a great work for this book, especially as a counter-point to Chua's book.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour!


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