cover image Ponti


Sharlene Teo. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7311-0

In Teo’s stirring debut, an adolescent friendship ripens and festers in the oppressive heat of Singapore. It’s 2003, and 16-year-old social outcast Ng Szu Min grapples with her weight, social awkwardness, and her mother, Amisa, who has a fan following due to her role as a ghost named Ponti in a cult film. Decades earlier, young Amisa leveraged her beauty to remake herself in the globalizing city as a B-film actress. It is the voice of Szu’s friend, Circe Low—reminiscing as an adult—that gives context to the surreal wanderings of the Ng women. Outside of the toxic social hierarchy of their all-girls school, Szu and Circe consider themselves “citizens of nowhere.” Although they come from different worlds, the two become best friends after meeting. Wealthy Circe is enchanted by Szu’s bizarre home life, which features hack séances run by Amisa, who believes she is a medium. Szu appreciates Circe’s honesty and humor whenever she comes over, making her feel more comfortable amid the specters of her cold mother’s beauty and the void of her absent father. But the fiery fascination between the two burns quickly, leaving a blistering resentment. Teo’s relatable yet unsettling novel smartly captures earnest teenage myopathy through a tumultuous high school relationship. (Sept.)