Sarong Party Girls is a Dishy Retelling of Emma by Jane Austen and We Are Here For It (Review: Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan)

7:30 AM

Time for some indulgence and retellings! I'm a sucker for the many spins on Emma by Jane Austen.


On the edge of twenty-seven, Jazzy hatches a plan for her and her best girlfriends: Sher, Imo, and Fann. Before the year is out, these Sarong Party Girls will all have spectacular weddings to rich ang moh—Western expat—husbands, with Chanel babies (the cutest status symbols of all) quickly to follow. Razor-sharp, spunky, and vulgarly brand-obsessed, Jazzy is a determined woman who doesn't lose.

As she fervently pursues her quest to find a white husband, this bombastic yet tenderly vulnerable gold-digger reveals the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore’s glamorous nightclubs and busy streets, its grubby wet markets and seedy hawker centers. Moving through her colorful, stratified world, she realizes she cannot ignore the troubling incongruity of new money and old-world attitudes which threaten to crush her dreams. Desperate to move up in Asia’s financial and international capital, will Jazzy and her friends succeed?

Vividly told in Singlish—colorful Singaporean English with its distinctive cadence and slang—Sarong Party Girls brilliantly captures the unique voice of this young, striving woman caught between worlds. With remarkable vibrancy and empathy, Cheryl Tan brings not only Jazzy, but her city of Singapore, to dazzling, dizzying life.

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5-4 stars; undecided)

As we all know, I'm a sucker for retellings/re-imaginings. Emma by Jane Austen is one of my favourite works of classic literature. Combining it with an indulgent, modern feeling ala Gossip Girl and Crazy Rich Asians, is basically like screaming THIS WAS MADE FOR JESSICA! at the top of your lungs. You already know I had to have it. It's basically Clueless (also based loosely on Emma) in Singapore.

I mean? Yes, please.

Sarong Party Girls scratches that itching desire for something fun and breezy, full of style and parties and the general glitz and glamour of the privileged, and it does it well. This is a definite beach read that is fun but still pretty heartfelt. You're going to have mixed feelings about the judgmental traits that characters have--but you'll soon discover there is more to them than meets the eye.

Our main character Jazzy is likable and flawed. Basking in her life of privilege, all the sex and the glamour and the partying, we get the front row seat in watching her grow. Her story is one of the coming of age variety, and proof that coming of age happens at any age. We're always growing.

Everything about Jazzy sparkles and leads readers to, depending on the scene, cringe or sympathize with her.

It took me a bit longer than I care to admit to get to reading Sarong Party Girls. I'd kind of burned myself out on this sort of book and just needed a little break. When I did get to it, though, I found myself reading it a little too quickly. That's a testament to Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's prose--it is light and quick. The very sort of style that calls on your focus and keeps you in place for a specific amount of time.

Ultimately, Sarong Party Girls is a fast read. It has humor and heart, style and pose, parties and sex. If ever there were a book destined to make you laugh and swoon, this is it. I only wish it was a little longer.

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