The ages-old questions of family and love become inextricably tangled with each other in the new novel Holding Pattern, the story of a mother and daughter navigating changes in their lives and the open wounds they’ve let fester for way too long. It’s the newest book from author Jenny Xie, who hails from Shanghai and California just like main character Kathleen Cheng and is no stranger to writing fiction and other works. Through Holding Pattern, Xie probes the very essence of being both a woman and a daughter, and simultaneously, just a girl in a world dominated by the nuclear family ideal.

Everything Kathleen Cheng thought she knew — her master’s research in psychology, her 3-year-long relationship, and the push-and-pull dynamic she has with her single mother — is put under the microscope when she returns to her hometown of Oakland after taking a break from school. Now, she’s planning a wedding for her mother’s marriage to the CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up when just a month ago she thought she would be planning one for herself.

The phrase “holding pattern” takes on varying definitions in the different contexts of each character’s life. Traditionally, “holding pattern” refers to a stagnant state of progress, typically in the economy or for aircraft landings.

To Kathleen, her holding pattern couldn’t be any more apparent. The way her completely transformed mother seems to be sprinting forward with her newfound romance and sporty lifestyle can’t help but make Kathleen feel like she’s being left in the dust of her own past. Not one for physical affection and especially not one for holding others, Kathleen surprises even herself when she tries her hand as a cuddle therapist, a new venture suggested by her friend as an application of her studies and as a fresh start. She’s thrust into an uncomfortable and unpredictable vulnerability that she grew up avoiding, and for the first time, she’s pushing the thin boundaries of the ever-so sacred practice of intimacy and the weight it can carry.

Between the lines of Xie’s well-crafted prose, questions about the patterns of human nature drive the story forward and instill a chilling relatability in the retelling of steps that we’ve all stumbled over. How much of a person is just your idea of them?

In an attempt to reconcile with her mother’s perspectives, Kathleen realizes that “the more you love someone, the more you treasure the distance between them and you” (112). Faced with the ugly truth of generational trauma and a mother’s regrets, she starts to question if “knowing someone” is recognizing the distance neither person will ever be able to cross. Kathleen needs to rediscover everything she’s been holding onto — other people, her past, and the scraps of memories long forgotten — and if it’s time for her to let go.

Xie’s writing has the ability to resonate with you even in the shortest dialogues, in which she pinpoints and embodies the all-too-familiar struggles of immigrant upbringings. While Kathleen is getting increasingly disillusioned with her friends’ fast-paced dreams, Xie maintains the tension in her writing, managing a careful balance between flashbacks to past events and the present day. Learning about who Kathleen was through the years is almost like growing up alongside her, and slowly, truths that were once hidden because she was “too young” become unraveled and finally explained. It’s easy to see yourself in her shoes, given that Xie masterfully weaves the grievances of an immigrant’s daughter with her empathy for human conditions and her tenderness for stories that were once too taboo to be shared out loud.

This story comes from Jenny Xie’s own heart, and her privy to the Asian American experience is exemplified through her nuanced crafting of intricate characters and niche pop culture references that make the read both emotionally engaging and fun to follow.

Holding Pattern is a real page-turner, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a refreshing but intellectually stimulating book to pick up. Xie does a great job of capturing the intersectionality of different generations and their complex understandings of family, constantly questioning what it is that keeps a mother and daughter together, and a mother and father apart. 

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