Cover image for In full bloom
In full bloom
Hwang, Caroline.
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Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, [2003]

Physical Description:
291 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Ginger Lee has come to New York to be someone-not to be with someone. Yet she's taking too long, according to her mother, who thinks a job is just a paycheck and that the solution to Ginger's problems is a nice professional Korean husband. Ginger could not disagree more, but unable to stand up to her mother, she sets upon a two-pronged plan: She'll sabotage the dates her mother arranges while stepping up her efforts to win a promotion at á la Modemagazine. She is confounded at every turn, however, by men who reject her before she can reject them and by style fiends better practiced in the art of office warfare. Finally free of her prejudices and preconceptions, Ginger finds that only by embracing her mother and her Asian roots will her happiness blossom. In Full Bloomheralds the arrival of a bright talent on today's literary scene.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Hwang's lively first novel takes a fresh look at the twentysomething dating scene from the perspective of a Korean American woman. Ginger Lee is a fashion assistant at A la Mode magazine, earning a small salary and not sure where she's headed professionally. Her life gets a lot more complicated when her mother appears at her door, determined to find Ginger a proper Korean husband. One problem: the man she offers up, Bobby Oh, the son of a family friend, happens to be engaged--to the horror of his family--to a woman who's not Korean. Ginger's mother wants her to break up the engagement. But Ginger has more important things on her mind; she might finally be getting the opportunity to be noticed (and hopefully promoted) at work, and she wants to attempt to heal the rift created between her brother and her mother when her brother married a non-Korean. Hwang throws in some unexpected surprises and manages to take a different approach to a popular genre. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ginger Lee, the plucky Korean-American heroine of Hwang's debut novel, didn't realize that her life was broken until her mother showed up at the door of her New York City studio vowing to "fix" it. Mom arrives with a long list of family friends who have eligible Korean-American sons and insists on staying until the 27-year-old Ginger is safely married ("your bloom is almost over"). Ginger, a Ph.D. dropout who's now the oldest-and least ambitious-fashion assistant at A la Mode magazine, goes into a tailspin. She's never managed to tell her mother that she doesn't want to marry anyone, let alone an upstanding Korean-American professional, and she goes to extreme measures (such as throwing herself into her ersatz career) to keep her mother at bay-to no avail. Along with the 20-something angst typical of this genre-Ginger frets about her nonexistent romantic life and vapid colleagues-Hwang addresses more serious subjects like Ginger's encounters with subtle forms of racism and the psychic toll of her mother's expectations. She tosses off well-turned-if predictable-observations about the Old World Mrs. Lee (on her fashion sense: "as long as little Korean women populate the earth, the eighties would never die"). Hwang runs out of steam by the end of the story with an anticlimactic resolution, but the novel has plenty of engaging moments and arch humor. With a little polishing, Hwang could become a crowd-pleasing storyteller. (Mar.) Forecast: This novel could be a successful handsell with women in their 20s. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Ginger Lee, 27, graduate school dropout and oldest flunky for a fashion magazine, awakens in her tiny New York apartment to find her fairy godmother at the door, promising to fix her life and get her a prince. This is a modern tale, so the apparition is really Ginger's Korean mother, arrived from Milwaukee to find a nice Korean doctor for her daughter to marry. Ginger, whose appreciation of Korean culture extends only to food, decides to sabotage the set-up dates while jump-starting her career to convince Mom that she doesn't need a husband. At A la Mode, Ginger's boss, her former college roommate, is in a take-no-prisoners battle with an arch rival for a coveted editor's position. Dependent on her mother to help pay her monthly bills, and indebted to the friend who rescued her from joblessness, Ginger wonders why the promise of her youth came to naught. This is a funny, touching account of an engaging young woman, and readers will cheer her on as she stumbles, learns, and grows.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 "Ginger, you there!" Even for my mother this was a strange way to start a conversation. The ringing telephone had cut my shower short. I secured the towel wrapped around me. "Where else would I be Monday at eight-thirty in the morning?" A mere fashion assistant at À la Mode magazine, I was supposed to be at work in half an hour. But my boss was my best friend from college, and Sam wouldn't be in until eleven. "Then why you don't answer the phone quickly? I rang and rang! I worry nobody home!" My mother was still shouting. I thought I heard traffic in the background-the same rapid-fire honks that were coming in through the open window. Why was she calling from the street? What was she doing on my street? I spun toward the window, my wet hair whipping me in the face. There, directly below on the sidewalk, was her black head and bright green Chanel suit. "Mom? Why aren't you in Milwaukee? Did something happen? Is something wrong?" "Nothing not wrong in Milwaukee." "Then what are you doing in New York?" I asked, somewhat relieved. "I come to fix your life." I laughed in surprise. "And how are you going to do that?" "I gonna find you a good Korean husband." "What?" I said, not because I didn't hear her but because I couldn't believe the inevitable had arrived already. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Korean mother in possession of a single adult daughter is in want of a professional Korean son-in-law. This maxim is so incontrovertible, this proclivity so genetically hardwired, it was a veritable miracle I'd made it this far, to my twenty-seventh year, unhitched. "Open the door," she said. The inevitable wasn't my succumbing to her matrimonial wishes-I needed a husband like Gloria Steinem needed a name tag-but my mother's attempting to fix me up. She'd tried when I was in graduate school, but I'd fended her off by claiming to be too busy to think about men. Not an entire lie. Though, instead of studying, I was occupied coming up with excuses to give my dissertation adviser, eluding chatty freshmen who wanted to discuss the papers they were writing for me, and cursing the admissions people who believed me when I said in my application that I wanted to be an English professor. I'd also managed to bat down a bachelor she lobbed at me several months after I left Madison. But now I had no excuse, no protection. Almost a year in Manhattan, fourteen months since I'd abandoned my dissertation on unpublished subversive female texts, I still didn't have Life Plan B. My job, a stopgap measure, was anything but demanding, and my mother knew that my evenings and weekends were free. I dropped the phone, and tempted though I was not to let her into the building, I held down the button on the wall that would release the lock on the door downstairs. I scanned the walk-in closet that passed for my apartment. Boxes of books stood against the wall where the movers had stacked them. The bed was a jumble of pillows and twisted sheets. Clothes, shoes, and magazines carpeted the wood floor and adorned the secondhand couch. Beer bottles, some upright and others on their sides, occupied the kitchen counter like a small army on furlough the morning after. The slovenliness wouldn't have surprised my mother, but the beer bottles stoppered with cigarette butts would. I didn't have a lot of time. It was a fourth-floor walk-up, and my mother was fifty-nine, but she was in great shape. I grabbed a shopping bag, and with my arm swiped everything on the counter into it. The sound of shattering glass was sort of exhilarating. I was trying to pluck out a plate from the bag, when the phone rang again. "Ginger, you are what apartment? That why I call in first place." I gave her the number, but instead of going to the buzzer, I ran with the Saks bag to the door, down the hallway, and to the garbage chute. I hated contributing perfectly recyclable bottles to a landfill, but apparently, when things came down to the wire, I cared more about saving my butt than the environment. My mother didn't approve of drinking or smoking, and I didn't want to discuss my unladylike behavior. It was better that she continued living in the dark. A policy I generally adhered to. "Mom, did it work?" I asked into the intercom, wiping the sweat on my brow with the back of my hand. Through the curtainless window, the summer sun was doing its best to make the studio unbearable. "I still wait for the buzzer." "Huh, that's strange. I'll try again." I'd managed to turn the fan around so it was blowing the stale air out the window when she knocked. I opened the door wide. She was flushed from the climb up, but she looked fine, the same as always. From her short, puffed-out hair that made her head look disproportionately big to her bone-thin, impeccably dressed body, she was, to my mind, the Korean Nancy Reagan. I took her suitcase from her and reeled backward from the unexpected weight. "I have to go to work," I said by way of greeting. "I happy to see you too." She stood on her toes-even with heels on, she was a half-foot shorter than me-and pecked me on the cheek. Regretting my brusqueness, I started to wrap my arms around her, but she shrugged them off. "You wet." She walked around me and into the apartment. Readjusting my slipping towel, I followed her to the couch but remained standing. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, unsure of what to say or do. I certainly wasn't going to bring up the husband thing. Her relentless drive to get me to the altar was mortifying, and her requirement that this hypothetical husband be Korean put me in a particular pickle, as I had never met an Asian man I wanted to date, let alone spend the rest of my life with. She didn't know about my discriminatory taste, just as she didn't know about the non-Korean men I'd mamboed with in the past. (I didn't dance with them for long-and I made sure they understood I was not long-waltz material.) I couldn't tell her. When my older brother, George, defied her and married a white woman, my mother made me promise she wouldn't lose me the same way. Granted, I was only fourteen when I made this vow, hardly a legally binding age. But I was all she had. My father left us when I was four. She waved me out of the way. Sitting in an elongated triangle of light coming in from the window, she surveyed the apartment. It was the first time she was seeing it; I'd insisted on moving without her help. The sun made her squint and brought out the wrinkles around her eyes. She looked tired, stooped a little, the way she had after I dropped out of school and she hustled me out of Madison and temporarily into her house. I'd been planning on staying longer on campus, treading water until I figured out my next step, but she and the movers appeared at my door the first Saturday after I formally bailed from my program. Slowly, she shook her head and clucked her tongue. "What a dump," she pronounced. A real estate agent, she was probably thinking of the house I could buy in Milwaukee, paying the same monthly mortgage as I was paying rent. "You can do better." "Not on my salary." As it was, she was helping me with the rent, along with food, utilities, and miscellaneous extravagances. Fashion assistants earned well below the median income of college graduates, and perforce lived beyond their means. "No, never on your salary." She got to her feet and tugged on my cheek. It hurt. "But with doctor salary, yes." She smiled. Here we go, I thought, rubbing my face. "I got a good doctor for you," she said with the bravado of a car salesman. It was the same tone she'd used pitching the bachelor ten months earlier. Though back then, I hadn't been surprised. I'd known she would spring into action as soon as I left grad school, which was one reason I'd loitered for as long as I did. That time it was over the phone. "Ginger, I don't ask you to walk to Ohio," she'd cooed. "I pay for plane ticket. Just let him meet you. I buy you new dress." Meeting me, of course, was to fall in love with me. "He good-looking, he engineer, and he second son." My father was a first son. "I don't care about birth order," I said, stalling for time. Telling her I was feeling too down to meet anyone would have been too unprecedented an admission. She knew, though, that I was struggling. I always tried to put a positive spin on things, mustering a cheerful front for her, but she called me weekly, at unpredictable times, catching me hungover, sleeping, or moved by a tampon commercial. As hard as I tried to contain my bewilderment at the lack of achievement in my life, sometimes the truth leaked out. "You don't care? You should. First son has to live with parents. You think I only care what he does for living. But Mommy think of everything." I could imagine her tapping her finger against her head. "That why you should trust me. I get you only the best." "But he lives in Ohio!" I blurted out, thankful for the escape clause. Homing in on the fact that her network of Korean acquaintances with eligible sons was limited to the Midwest, I added, "I'm not going to move. I just got to New York. So what's the point in meeting him?" To my astonishment, she gave in without putting up more of a fight, and canceled the plane ticket. I thought she relented not out of kindness or fair play, but to give me time to get back on my feet, so I could score an accomplishment, become someone a Korean mother would consider "only the best" to marry her son. I was wrong. Or maybe I was just taking too long, because here she was in my crowded studio. I looked heavenward for succor. "You don't say something?" "Like what?" I asked reluctantly. She shrugged, still smiling. "How about thank you?" "I haven't even met him." "So you want to?" "Let's discuss this later. I have to get to work." She frowned. "But your bloom is almost over." "In the next eight hours?" As often as I'd heard that Korean saying, the English translation now stung. I couldn't pretend, as I usually did, that I was missing a cultural nuance. At the magazine, I was the oldest assistant in the fashion department by four years. Everyone my age, like Sam, was an editor. "Don't break up my heart," she said, furrowing her brow. "You came at a bad time. You should have consulted me first." "If I do that, you tell me not to come, you busy." She had a point. "But why did you take such an early flight?" She wrinkled her nose and twisted her mouth to one side. "I didn't. I came yesterday." "You did? Where did you stay?" As aggravated as I was, I couldn't help but feel hurt that she'd flown all this way and not seen me first. "Mrs. Oh," she answered. "She moved to New Jersey when you little girl. We always do parknic together. You remember her?" I nodded. Mrs. Oh talked loudly and laughed a lot. Her husband and my father had been in the same Ph.D. program. The Ohs had a son. "Isn't their boy's name Bob?" My brother and I used to get a kick out of saying his name. Bob Oh. Bah-bo means fool in Korean. My mother vigorously nodded. "Bob. Bobby. That right. He medical doctor now. Lives here. Handsome like his father." "He's the good doctor you just mentioned?" She nodded. She must have recently reconnected with the Ohs; otherwise she would have tried to set me up with Bob instead of the guy in Ohio. There was nothing like a single daughter to motivate you to hunt down old friends. I shuddered to think how many others she'd looked up. "I think you wasted your money flying out here. I doubt we'll like each other." "Don't say that. You don't know." The summer my father left and my mother started working, I occasionally spent afternoons at the Ohs' house. I didn't mind playing with Bob when no one else was around, but he was always after my dolls. He also picked his nose. "I know." She opened her mouth, then closed it, thinking better of whatever she was going to say. Wagging her head, she instead said, "Even so, it not wasted trip. I stay until I get you a husband." I waited for her to laugh, wink, give some sign she was only joshing. It didn't come. I looked back at her suitcase. She was her own boss at the real estate company; she could stay indefinitely. I closed my jaw to speak. "How many men do you have lined up?" She refused to look me in the eye. "Mother?" "Let's talk later. Like you said, you gotta go to work." She put an arm around my waist and bussed me on a spot just below my shoulder-that was where she came up to on me. "No, let's talk now." "No, later. You have to get ready." She started to push me in the back, steering me toward the bathroom. I tried to resist her, but she was stronger, and then she started to tickle me. She knew all my soft spots. --from In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang, Copyright © March 2003, Dutton, a member of The Penguin Group, used with permission. Excerpted from In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.