Central Places: A Novel
A PHENOMENAL BOOK CLUB PICK • “A sensitive, sharp-eyed, slyly funny novel of venturing back into the foreign country that is your past—and discovering that you can never really shake the places and people that shaped you.”—Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Our Missing Hearts
A young woman’s past and present collide when she brings her white fiancé home to meet her Chinese immigrant parents in this vibrant debut from an exciting new voice in fiction.
Audrey Zhou left Hickory Grove, the tiny central Illinois town where she grew up, as soon as high school ended, and she never looked back. She moved to New York City and became the person she always wanted to be, complete with a high-paying, high-pressure job and a seemingly faultless fiancé. But if she and Manhattan-bred Ben are to build a life together, in the dream home his parents will surely pay for, Audrey can no longer hide him, or the person she’s become, from those she left behind.
But returning to Hickory Grove is . . . complicated. Audrey’s relationship with her parents has been soured by years of her mother’s astronomical expectations and slights. The friends she’s shirked for bigger dreams have stayed behind and started families. And then there’s Kyle, the easygoing stoner and her unrequited crush from high school that she finds herself drawn to again. Ben might be a perfect fit for New Audrey, but Kyle was always the only one who truly understood her growing up, and being around him again after all these years has Old Audrey bubbling up to the surface.
Over the course of one disastrous week, Audrey’s proximity to her family and to Kyle forces her to confront the past and reexamine her fraught connection to her roots before she undoes everything she's worked toward and everything she's imagined for herself. But is that life really the one she wants?
Praise for Central Places: A Novel
“Delia [Cai] does an incredible job of capturing the complicated feelings that returning home can evoke—especially when an old boyfriend is involved. I love this intergenerational immigrant tale and Delia’s sharp social commentary about identity, and cultural differences. Delia Cai is an exciting new voice in fiction.”—Emily Giffin, The Today Show
“For anyone who spent the holidays listening to Taylor Swift’s “Tis the Damn Season” and brooding in their hometown . . . [Central Places is] a Hallmark movie plot with a literary bend, and Cai’s musings on being a person of color in a small town add a refreshingly nuanced layer to a classic story.”—Buzzfeed
“ [A] luminous depiction of the complications of relationships with friends, old and new romantic loves, and immigrant parents.”—Electric Literature
“[Central Places] contains the very wit and insight that makes Cai such a talented journalist.”—Vulture
“Fantastic . . . This one will have you reflecting on themes of interracial relationships, growing up and moving on.”—Ms.
“A meet-the-parents comedy of manners! A town-mouse-country-mouse premise! A well-observed study of a provincial Manhattanite! Central Places has it all. It brims with charm, zippy observations, and the troublesome task of squaring who you are with who you were and who you want to be.”—Bustle
“An unflinching but warmhearted examination of a young woman at a crossroads.”—Booklist
“A sensitive, sharp-eyed, slyly funny story . . . This book will resonate with anyone who’s tried to navigate the confusing terrain of family tensions, lost friendships, or embarrassing memories of youth: in short, pretty much everyone.”—Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Our Missing Hearts
“Delia Cai fully renders the uneasy marriage between past and present. Central Places is honest about the strangeness and revelation of returning home.”—Raven Leilani, New York Times bestselling author of Luster
“An incandescent debut shedding light on old friendships, half-forgotten selves, and ferocious longings past and present, Central Places is a revelation, disquieting and so very moving, and dazzling with insight.”—R. O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
“A moving, nuanced novel about race, class, and the unspoken power dynamics of an interracial relationship, Central Places negotiates the personal and the political with unsparing precision. Delia Cai has created an indelible cast of uniquely complicated characters.”—Jean Chen Ho, author of Fiona and Jane
“Burns with complexity and compassion . . . Audrey’s unforgettable story of self-discovery will speak to anyone who has ever stood on the precipice of change, who has ever felt in between, and who has ever wondered if looking back is part of moving forward.”—Elaine Hsieh Chou, author of Disorientation