Review of Throwback by Maurene Goo

You know that feeling when it seems like you may have read a different book from a lot of other reviewers? Yeah. That’s this one–mostly.

Blurb: Being a first-generation Asian American immigrant is hard. You know what’s harder? Being the daughter of one. 

Priscilla is first-generation Korean American, a former high school cheerleader who expects Sam to want the same all-American nightmare. Meanwhile, Sam is a girl of the times who has no energy for clichéd high school aspirations. After a huge blowup, Sam is desperate to get away from Priscilla, but instead, finds herself thrown back. Way back.

To her shock, Sam lands in the ’90s . . . alongside a 17-year-old Priscilla. 

Now, Sam has to deal with outdated tech, regressive ’90s attitudes, and her growing feelings for sweet, mysterious football player Jamie, who just might be the right guy in the wrong era. 

 With the clock ticking, Sam must figure out how to fix things with Priscilla or risk being trapped in an analog world forever. Sam’s blast to the past has her questioning everything she thought she knew about her mom . . . and herself. One thing’s for sure: Time is a mother. 

Brimming with heart and humor, Maurene Goo’s Throwback asks big questions about what exactly one inherits and loses in the immigrant experience.

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Throwback by Maurene Goo is about teenager Sam, a second-generation Korean American, who is at odds with her mother (typical teen righteousness?). When the two have a huge argument, Sam climbs into a rideshare only at its destination to discover herself in the 1990s at her mother’s high school . . . and attending the same school as her mother. Nothing like almost walking in someone’s shoes to get an idea of what their life was like.

So. So. SO! Where to begin? How about at the beginning?

Sam is an unpalatable, entitled, spoiled brat, and since Throwback is told in the first person, the reader gets her self-involved, arrogant opinions ad nauseum. Sam tells us how primitive the 1990s are compared to the 2020s. That in her world there isn’t bullying. I don’t know about you, but I believe it’s a miracle that somehow civilization progresses so rapidly in 1-and-1/2 years that the bullying I hear about in nearby high schools will totally be eradicated. Imagine! Yes, imagine. However, I suspect that in Sam’s probably very small, very elite high school that perhaps everyone does get along and respect everyone. Really? Well, no. I don’t believe that at all.

The fact that Sam also preaches the gospel of social media and influencers without acknowledging the damage they do is also laughable, especially considering that teenage girls, the primary audience for this novel, have higher suicide rates than ever before with at least 30% having considered suicide. So really this novel is science fiction in more than the fact that the main character travels back in time. There are other debatable observations but I’ll leave it with these. Suffice to say I am constantly researching the effect of the internet on kindness and fall on the side that it’s had a detrimental effect.

If the reader can move beyond Sam’s preachiness and aggressiveness, then they can see that Sam slowly begins to understand that her mother is a 1990s over-achiever, who wants it all. A tenacity that Sam cannot comprehend because Sam doesn’t know what she wants. Her parents have provided her with a support system regardless of her achievements. Sam also can’t understand why her mother, Priscilla, hangs around with the White kids instead of the Korean kids. But when Sam begins to hang around with Priscilla, meets her grandmother, not as her grandmother but as Priscilla’s mother, she sees that her grandmother is more domineering and needy–out of necessity–than the woman Sam knows. Slowly Sam’s very black and white world takes on some gray. However, not enough for me.

Sam is a character who talks a big game but rarely acts. Perhaps this could have been alleviated if more thought had gone into overall characterization rather than just characterization based on reaction, which is often over-reaction. Indeed, I find a character constantly “raging” and taking offense at instances like being called “sweetie” by an older individual to be deserving of an eyeroll when that character does nothing except get into people’s face in an ugly manner and fails to differentiate between the battles which are worth fighting. Or even, forget battles, actions that are necessary and important like her so-called activism for the environment, which is nothing more than talk.

On par with the novel itself, little thought has been given to the ramifications of changing the past via time travel. The reader is supposed to go with it. Shrug. What can I say other than it would have been cool if something had changed–not intentionally. But let’s not go crazy here and make a nuanced novel.

Lastly, I am somewhat bemused by the fact that the author’s research brought up microfiche rather than microfilm as the medium through which Sam and her friend view old documents at the library since my one instance of Googling only brought up microfilm. Even as an oldie (but goodie (am I allowed to say that without offending someone?!)), I never used microfiche.

So. Okay. Before I give the impression that I hated Throwback, I didn’t. While I found the first half pretty painful, the last third was more engaging as Sam acquires some awareness and action happens besides Sam being offended by the 1990s.

I accept that I am not the target audience for Throwback and not only because I tend to overthink everything.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4 thoughts on “Review of Throwback by Maurene Goo

  1. I am trying to figure out how she survived having gone back in time. Where did she live and how did she eat? How did she get registered in school? It seems as those these problems alone would be insurmountable.

    1. Ah, this is where the author can provide a fantastical solution and feed it to the reader. Sam meets a woman she will know in the future who not only offers her a place to stay, but money and food and the use of her car all just because she thinks Sam is on vacation. Ha. Now, for the school registering, Sam shows up alone and the school registrar says that it’s not unusual for parents of kids like her (Asian) not to show up because they are so work-focused–which allows Sam to have a tirade on how backward the 90s are that people would say things like that. Frankly, I think it’s more likely for someone to say that now than then.

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