Cover Image: The Double Life of Benson Yu

The Double Life of Benson Yu

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Member Reviews

Ah this one was good! Apparently I like metafiction as a genre! I thought it was a fascinating exploration of coming of age, even though the metaness got into the way of the plot sometimes. Thank you so much to Atria for the ARC of this one.
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Lately I’ve been gravitating towards books about Asian American main characters processing trauma, and The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong falls squarely into that category.

The story follows the title character, a successful graphic novelist, as he revisits and rewrites (quite literally) the traumatic events of his childhood. We watch an adult Benson with a family of his own as he writes and illustrates the deaths of his mother and grandmother - and the time he spent with the abusive caretaker who took him under his wing thereafter - painted with more fantastical, light-hearted strokes as an anthropomorphic tale of animal warriors. As Benson works through and confronts the truth of the dark events of his life, his past bubbles up to collide with his present in unsettling, volatile ways.

I went into the book taking the synopsis at face value, drawn in by Benson’s family dynamics and the simmering undercurrent of darkness, and found myself gripped at the “did that just happen” turn of events that fast-tracks the plot to an end as moving and startling as the journey. Kevin Chong explores the notions of suppressed trauma and writing as wish fulfillment with a gentle and deft hand, sprinkling in tender moments with pointed commentary on cycles of abuse and the creative process.
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AAPI Heritage Month #9

rep: Chinese American

Let’s add metafiction to the list of genres that don’t work for me. I’m confused. Or I’m dumb.

I mostly understood Benny’s story. It’s curious how often money is talked about in Chinese culture. I prefer the cash gifts at weddings. Funnily enough, even though western society deems money gifts uncouth, people have started donating to honeyfunds and the like. 

The undercurrents of abuse and neglect are certainly there. But once we transitioned to Yu’s sorry, I found myself lost. And then I didn’t care enough to get sucked back in. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher.
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I definitely enjoyed this one - it is so different from my normal comfort zone of genre that I obviously had to give it a go. Though I had no clue what “metafiction” meant, I was overall interested with the synopsis!

Thought there was explicitly spelled out, the undertone of a more darker coming of age for Benny. It took a bit for me to really invest in Benny as a character but once I started to understand the author’s intention with the writing style, I started to have so much compassion for Benny. His struggles, reflections, coping mechanisms and the overall forgiveness that he finds for himself really had this captivating type feel. You can’t help but want to wrap Benny up in a bundle.

Definitely worthy of a read.
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This was challenging, and admittedly, not my favourite book so far this year. It was, however, intriguingly constructed. Focusing mostly on young Benson Yu, who lives with his grandmother, poh-poh, after the death of his mother and abandonment by his father. When poh-poh sickens then dies, Benson spends a few days living by himself in poh-poh's apartment, till his hunger and fear of being sent to live with his father grows too great. He decides to ask an odd neighbour if he can live with him till his on-the-road musician aunt can return and he can live with her. The oddball neighbour believes himself to be a samurai, receiving words from his unseen daimyo. The man's name is Constantine, and he works by day delivering ice to businesses, and practices martial arts forms by night. He tries to take care of Benson, till an accident occurs, and a social worker takes Benson to live with his dad.

Except, it's not really his dad. Instead, it's a comic book writer who has run out of ideas, works part time as a teacher at a college, and is the real life version of Benson. The graphic novelist is currently writing his life story, but softening its rough edges, including his abusive relationship with his childhood martial arts teacher. He is very reluctant to have Benson in his home. Benson and he  don't really get along, and Benson's presence causes the writer to spiral, drinking too much, and damaging, perhaps permanently, his marriage.

Kevin Chong, the actual writer of this layered story, plays with reality, time and truth throughout. The in-story comic book writer often comments on how he is describing moments in Benson's life, and telling his reader that he is altering facts, whether to make it more palatable for himself, or to evoke emotion in the reader. It's all very 4th-wall breaking, but I'm not sure what it ultimately accomplished. Benson's story was sad enough to get though without understanding that this was an imagined backstory by the grown up version of Benson, who was also reluctant to delve too deeply into his own psyche.

Other than that, I'm not sure what to say about this book. I liked parts, and I could appreciate what Chong was doing but I actually felt myself falling out of the story each time the older writer commented on how he was obfuscating aspects of his life, or refusing to confront his own trauma. "The Double Life" is self aware, frustrating, and also kind of neat.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Atria Books for this ARC in exchange for my review.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Atria Books for an advance review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Out April 18, 2023.

3 stars

It’s very difficult to review this book without ruining some major plot points, but I will say that it became a little too meta at the sake of losing out on character and plot development. 

The first half of this book was wonderful, and it was so interesting to see a man coping with his childhood trauma by rewriting his story. I enjoyed his descriptions of life in Chinatown and Benson’s life. This part of the book was very introspective and compelling. 

The second half of the book kind of lost me and I didn’t see the point of Benson Yu’s shift in time. The characters motives became muddled to me and I lost the point of the book.
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Thank you for the advanced copy of this book.  
The book can be a little triggering.  A washed-up author attempts a comeback by rewriting his childhood.  Things get out of control and by the end you are rooting for the characters rather than the author.  Definitely different.
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Interesting idea and fascinating flow of events and chapter structure. I wanted to really like it but I was underwhelmed.
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3.5⭐️ rounded up to 4!

Thank you to TLC book tours and Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

This book was definitely outside of my go-to genres, but I found it to be a solid and interesting book. Although many people did not, I personally loved the metafiction aspect of this book. I found it to be a unique way to tell the story and it really pulled me in. I loved diving into Benny’s character and learning about him. This book does contain some heavy topics and not everything is resolved as neatly as I would have wanted, but overall it was a fascinating character study and book!
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I don’t think I was the intended audience for this, so not posting publicly to Goodreads. 

Well written, but the meta story wasn’t my style. The abuse and grooming made me uncomfortable.
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I want to open by saying that I can tell you very little about this book without spoiling one or more of the surprises it contains. So my brief review is this: "The Double Life of Benson Yu is utterly original and engaging in terms of plot and character. The narrative offers major shifts that are brilliant and unexpected. It crosses time and cultures. Read it!"

Seriously. I don't want to say more, but I do want to recommend this title in the strongest terms possible. Check it out.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher; the opinions are my own.
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Delighted to include this title in the April edition of Novel Encounters, my regular column highlighting the month’s most anticipated fiction, for the Books section of Zoomer magazine. (see column and mini-review at link)
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This is a unique creative novel.Kevin Chong’s writing drew me into Bennys life with his grandma.So much is packed into this short novel I was engaged from beginning to end.# netgalley #atria
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While trying to work through childhood traumas a grown man writes the story of his life in the 80s after losing his grandma Momo. Benny was bullied at school and only had one girl who was nice to him in the day he didn’t go home to his grandma was the day he found her dead. He knows if the adults and his life find out he will be sent  away he desperately writes to his aunt who is on tour with the rock group but is having a hard time getting in touch with her. Eventually he will become friends with the fat Caucasian man living in his building this man is obsessed with the wrestling world and fahimself some type of ninja. This is a Netta Fiction Book Bub lightly touches on pedophilia but I don’t think it does so much a trigger warning is needed but if’s so there’s your warning. This is written in the metafiction style of writing which until I read this book I was clueless as to what that was and finally I googled it. This was one of those books I couldn’t wait to start reading and I must say I read this in two different parts not because it wasn’t interesting or because it was long because actually it was neither I just felt so bad for young Benny and had to give my heart a break. Now having said that I definitely recommend this book it is a solid four star read in one I will probably read again in the future. I did fine it was a little meandering towards the end if that makes sense but not long and it doesn’t upset the reading of the total story. I received this book from NetGalley and a publisher but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.
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First I would like to thank Atria books and NetGalley for sharing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. A story of trauma and resilience, Benny Yu takes a very personal look into a complicated period in the boy's life after his grandmother passes away. The voice feels original and authentic to Benny's life in Chinatown using details and imagery that pull you in. 

Although at times the 'metafiction' structure was a bit confusing, I ultimately came to understand how it conveyed the writer's struggle to tell his story. I can see how themes surrounding child abuse and depression could be triggering to some but it's more implied than detailed or focused as a part of this story. Not a lighthearted, coming-of-age tale but an honest, intimate portrayal of long-standing effects of trauma in childhood.
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Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 
TW: sexual abuse and ideation of suicide
The Double Life of Benson Yu is a metafictional narrative that follows the life of Benson Yu as he grows up in 1980s Chinatown. Benson is fascinated by Japanese popular culture and references manifest through characters or imagery throughout the narrative. Although these references contribute to the narrative’s fantastical atmosphere, they function as a strategy for Benson to confront his emotions in light of difficult events.
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I really loved the metafiction approach to this book, and found the writing fresh and interesting. I appreciated the discussion of Asian-American identity and exploration of trauma. It packed a lot into a pretty short book.
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Fascinating! Beautiful! Unforgettable!

Benson Yu is writing a graphic novel. His therapist advised him to address the issues in his childhood, his past traumas via writing. Thus we move back in time to the 80's in Chinatown, NYC. Benny lives with his grandma and they are a devoted team scrapping by.  When grandma falls ill, Benny's home is put in question and it isn't long before the META of this fiction takes place.

Suddenly Benny is living WITH Benson, in the future (the present). A survivor by nature, he keeps his thoughts to himself and tries to just get by. But childhood trauma comes. back again and again to haunt Benson, This novel is a story within a story of him trying to make sense of it all. 

I really loved it. I forgot, and keep forgetting that Kevin Chong wrote this novel, not Benny Yu. What a talented weaver of fiction he is - you will travel through Chinatown, through public and private schools and even visit a party for a college professor - the words so sharp - you will truly feel like you are there.

You will root for Benny, for Benson and for many other characters in the novel  If you love creative fiction, unique premises, a bit of speculation or syfy or just love a character driven novel filled with themes of Asian culture, The Double Life of Benson Yu is for you ! #Atria #KevinChong #TheDoubleLifeOfBensonYu
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Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of The Double Life of Benson Yu.

I was intrigued by the premise so when I realized I wasn't a fan, this is really a case of it being my own opinion.

Metafiction is becoming more popular in fiction, and though I like the idea of it, I'm still not sold on it.

I'll just say it works in some formats, not all.

First, the premise is an interesting take on exploring trauma and relationships. That being said, it's not an easy, lighthearted read.

The underlying theme of abuse is disturbing, and some readers may find it triggering to read.

It took me a long time to finish this book only because as the narrative progressed, I found it hard to understand and keep up with.

The meta aspects, at first, was interesting, but as the story continued, I found those parts distracting, and began wishing this was a novel with a typical narrative format.

I couldn't relate to anyone nor did I care what happened to them.

I appreciate the uniqueness of the plot and how the author attempted to write a story about trauma in a distinctive way, but this didn't work for me. 

I wished I had found it more compelling but other readers may enjoy it more than I did.
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TW: Suicide ideation and implied child sexual abuse
Thank you to NetGalley, the publishers Simon & Schuster, Atria Books, and the author Kevin Chong for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

The blurb compares Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown, and the comparison is apt as Yu and Chong are writing similar themes of Chinese-American representation, Asian masculinity, Chinatown, boyhood/childhood, and fatherhood. Chong's novel is also similar to the upcoming book Flux as well, and while Flux uses the time-traveling framework to frame these themes, Yu and Chong use a meta-narrative aspect. Chong's writing echoes past works such as Frank Chin's The Chickencoop Chinaman, The Year of the Dragon, and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men. Chong's meta-narrative is especially effective in rewriting and confronting childhood trauma, and how recreating sites of trauma into art can be empowering. The use of Japanese martial arts karate and Samurais serves as a representation of Asian masculinity and for approximation to Western masculinity. Benson embraces karate and Samurai as a form of assimilation politics as well. he actively avoids kung-fu and desires not to be like his Dad but becomes a terrible parent by being an alcoholic. By the end, Benson rewrites Benny's politics and gives him closure with Constantine, a closure that he'll never get from his abuser in real life, Benny remains firmly positioned in Chinatown and closer to his Chinese heritage through his Aunt, Steph. Overall, Chong's work is a great addition to Asian diaspora literature.
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