cover image Which Side Are You On

Which Side Are You On

Ryan Lee Wong. Catapult, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-1-64622-148-6

Artist and critic Wong debuts with a profound and nuanced bildungsroman of a young Asian American man and his evolution as a political activist during a visit to his hometown of Los Angeles. Reed, 21, a student and organizer, is home to see his ailing Korean grandmother. There, he informs his parents, whom he views as conformists, that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself instead to grassroots organizing after an unarmed Black man is shot and killed by an Asian police officer. Though he dismisses his parents’ pleas for him to finish his degree, Reed is adamant about learning everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community. From the first page, Wong sets the tone with Reed’s youthful irreverence, which unfailingly gets at the truth of the matter: “Mom had finally broken her lifelong boycott against the Japanese colonizers because, she explained, the mileage was unbeatable, and anyway, we had to let go of that ancestral shit sooner or later.” This daring and generous work is sure to spark difficult but necessary conversations. Agent: Julia Masnik, Watkins/Loomis. (Oct.)