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Guilty Pleasures: Crazy Rich Asians is more than just another rom-com

The series’ examination of broader social issues adds depth to a classic love story
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

Warning: spoilers for the three novels in the Crazy Rich Asians book series, obviously.

I was a middle schooler wandering around my local Indigo bookstore when I first came across the Crazy Rich Asians book series. Being a disgruntled preteen who thought reading Ender’s Game and Catcher in the Rye gave me some incredible intellectual cache, I picked up the first book in the series and scanned the description. Upon finding out that it was a soapy drama about rich people’s relationship problems, I was repulsed and immediately headed back to the science fiction aisle. 

Turns out I was wrong, as I often am. The Crazy Rich Asians series is a lot of fun: there’s non-stop drama, expensive everything, and hilarious family members who can’t mind their own business, with the plot moving at 100 Ferrari-fueled miles a minute. There are elements typical of the genre — star-crossed lovers and a handsome guy with a mysterious background — but also huge twists that leave you scrambling to keep up. 

I breezed through the three-book series in a few days over the last winter break, which felt like bingeing a trashy Netflix show — you aren’t sure whether you’re supposed to like it, but you become hooked anyway. 

Looking back, this series is much more than a fun way to spend a few free afternoons. The three novels examine the ways in which societal and familial expectations dictate how we live and explore how the choices we make affect our relationships with the people we love. 

The many struggles that the characters go through are often tied to broader social issues like classism, sexism, and xenophobia. Anyone from a different country or socioeconomic background can understand main protagonist Rachel Chu, who is immediately shunned by most of the country’s wealthy natives.

In the exclusive circle of Singapore’s elite depicted in the novels, young women with lucrative degrees are still expected to give up their careers for their families and are shamed into silence about their husbands’ frequent affairs. There are frequent intergenerational clashes as everyone tries to find their way through life without having to default to the paths stubbornly laid out by their parents.  

The main conflict of the series stems from the struggle between Nick Young’s uptight, wealthy family, who have planned his life out for him, and Nick himself, who is determined to live on his own terms. When Nick decides to pursue his own destiny by marrying Rachel and staying with her in New York, his family shuns him and cuts him off from his inheritance. 

What he did out of love and a desire for freedom is certainly worthwhile as he chose what made him truly happy, but he pays a price as he sacrifices his relationships with many of his loved ones. Although Nick has some allies in his huge, crazy family, most of them treat him like a pariah. One example is his beloved grandmother Su Yi, who only makes amends with him when she is on her deathbed. 

However, after three books full of drama, the series ends on a hopeful note with the main characters all gathered at Nick’s family estate for the wedding between Rachel’s best friend and Nick’s cousin; we see that although things still aren’t perfect, they sure appear to be a whole lot better. 

Most of us probably don’t have billion-dollar trust funds or a whole island of luxurious properties to inherit, but we can find a common ground when considering the story’s many complex familial and social conflicts, which don’t come with simple resolutions and easy happy endings. Crazy Rich Asians may not be real life for most of us, but there’s no question that it can tell us something about our reality.