Hello again, traveler! Are you searching for a fun, diverse book by an Asian-American author? Look no further! Let’s discuss Not THAT Rich by Belinda Lei, a debut YA novel to the tune of Crazy Rich Asians and Gossip Girl that had me absolutely hooked from start to finish and gave me a bit of sunlight during freezing, frightening times.
Hunter and Trisha Wang, like the majority of their classmates, are trying to balance AP classes, Ivy League applications, numerous extracurriculars, and tumultuously juicy social lives, all while living in their affluent, suburban bubble.
Will Hunter get into Stanford and still be able to maintain his relationship with the “it girl” Sierra Jones? Will Trisha find love with outsider Ray Martinez and figure out what’s going on with her influencer best friend, Pamela Shah? Will billionaire newcomer Jack Zhou figure out how to fit in? And who exactly is The Stranger?
Welcome to Winchester High, a prestigious college preparatory school where students live seemingly perfect, privileged lives.
Rep: Chinese-American author, protagonists, and characters; Asian and BIPOC cast; queer characters
Content Warnings: unplanned pregnancy; racism and xenophobia; homophobia; loss of a loved one; drug and substance use; bullying; physical and psychological abuse
tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?
MY RATING: ★★★★★
In short: eat the rich. They have some delicious stories to tell.
This is the sort of high-school drama I’ve been searching for all of my life.
A Quick Foreword
My five-star rating is not without its context: our story — this review 😋 — begins in the middle of February 2021, amidst the height of the devastating winter power outages in Texas. I was in desperate need of a distraction: my household had neither light nor clean water for the better part of a week, and my family worried over what we’d have to eat while the frozen roads and frigid temperatures blocked us from the rest of the city.
Weighed down by old jackets and wishing for warmth, I curled up in a chair, leaned closer towards my younger brother’s flashlight, and started reading my paperback copy of Not THAT Rich. I finished more quickly than I anticipated; while novels of its length (around 344 pages) often take me two to three days to complete (what can I say? I take my time! 🙈), I was shocked as I read the closing lines only three hours after beginning.
Not THAT Rich was just what I needed: a thoughtful, grinning tale that took my mind off of the world for a time. Maybe that’s why I rated it five-stars — either way, a five-star is a five-star!
Sometimes, a book is just what you need to get through a shivering moment.
And With That, I Had a Swell Time!
Novels (and narratives in general) set in high school rarely capture what it’s like to be in that swimming period between 9th and 12th grade. Either they’re blushingly misguided, naively following an author’s rose-tinted salad days — the first thing that comes to mind is the work of John Green (my deepest apologies to the John Green stans out there, but his works are not my thing!) — or they’re along the lines of blurry, blue-lit, dangerously explicit affairs like Euphoria, or simply subpar… like Riverdale. 😅
Not THAT Rich hits the high-school jackpot, though. It’s a perfect blend of intelligence, humor, and heart, and it was an excellent way to spend my chilly afternoon.
I will add — being the child of first-generation Asian immigrants, this book resonated with me in particular. Not That Rich explored those expectations without inadvertently falling into reinforced stereotypes and preconceptions, which I deeply appreciated.
The novel achieves an entertaining, earnest melodrama that few stories can reach. It was insightful without being gratuitous, and campy without being dry. Notably, the novel successfully critiques the exorbitant excess of the insanely wealthy without romanticizing them. Its complicated, ambitious teen protagonists, still searching for themselves in the whirlwind of their lives, were such a delight, and clearly satirized the affluent.
And the relationships: the friendships were so fun to read! Trisha and Pamela’s bond especially reminded me of the closeness I share with my own friends. Hunter and Trisha’s brother-sister alliance echoed my rivalries and revelries with my own siblings. (Plus, I never thought I’d be this invested in contemporary heterosexual romance. Trisha and Ray had such a wholesome connection, and developed a communicative relationship based on mutual respect and understanding — which not many YA novels establish. Oh, my goodness. The straights have done it again. 😋)
With this novel, I felt so seen.
- Stressful college applications? Felt.
- Aching senioritis? Felt.
- Tumultuous companions? Felt.
- Animal-Crossing sessions with friends? Felt.
- Chaotic Lunar-New-Year dinner? I feel that deep in my shivering bones.
Not THAT Rich was a wild, beautiful blast. It was my flickering candle (a scented candle 😉) in the darkness during some difficult hours. I’m glad I read it when I did.
(Thanks so much to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!)
Thank you so much for reading my review for Not THAT Rich! I’m always so happy to find new awesome indie books, and this one that stuck with me a lot. (Re-read time, anyone? 🙌🏼)
Please take care, traveler! 💚
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: a book review for one of my most anticipated reads of 2021: a swinging, singing, heartbreaking 1920’s experience!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖