On Becoming – A Review of Delia Cai’s Central Places

Being 2nd generation American-born Chinese, this book totally called out to me. And, I was lucky to have been given an ARC of this book by NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review. So many of the issues that our protagonist went through, I’ve dealt with – some I am still struggling with letting my parents see eye to eye with me. Well, onto the book review.

Audrey Zhou hasn’t been home in 8 years since moving away to New York for college. Once she was done, she started building a life there away from home – away from her parents. Until she got a call that her dad had a scheduled surgery that he wanted her to be there with him. The best part? It was the week leading up to Christmas. Audrey’s seemingly impeccable fiancé Ben urges her to go, and what perfect excuse to meet and be introduced to his future in-laws? Also, bonus points for being a supportive partner. Besides, they would return a few days before Christmas and they could still spend time together back in New York – just in time for the holidays.

Audrey on the other hand, is dreading every second of the return to her Midwestern hometown in Illinois ever since checking in for her flight. She’s intentionally lost touch with everyone from high school as a means to try to erase her past. This included people like Kristen, her bff and also her longtime crush – Kyle. Inevitably, she runs into almost everyone albeit at different times throughout her stay; being that it is a small town and everyone is either home for the holidays or never left. This stirs up a lot of mixed feelings for Audrey on how she left things with everyone.

Back at home, she avoids her mom like the plague – or at least she wants to. Her mom was never short to remind her that she was the accident that caused her family to suffer through all the hardships they’ve had to overcome. Always wanted her to be the best and if she had failed to do so, her mother would be sure to let her know her disappointment in her. This included letting Audrey know through her actions that she felt Ben wasn’t good enough for her.

Throughout the book, Audrey was a very unlikeable protagonist. She always carried an attitude that was very woe is me and that everyone else owed something to her. Whatever resulted from her actions no matter the time, was never her fault. I admit I got a little bored of her character about a third of the way through. What really saved her character was maturing to the point of realizing she had to make amends for the way she left things and stop making excuses. The story did come full circle in finally understanding where her mother’s mannerisms came from and why she did what she did. Most immigrant parents have had it hard and they always want what’s best for their children. Although they don’t always know how to show it, they always mean well.

She made up with Kristen and Kyle in the end and *surprise* called the engagement off with Ben. As to why? Well, I urge you to pick up a copy of this book when it’s due to release on January 31, 2023. You won’t be disappointed! A great debut novel 🙂


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