Family secrets at center of Diana Ma’s Heiress Apparently

HEIRESS APPARENTLY, by Diana Ma, Harry N. Abrams, Dec. 1, 2020, Hardcover, $17.99 (YA ages 13 and up)

A case of mistaken identity turns out to be much, much more in Diana Ma’s Heiress Apparently.

Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent. Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost. —Synopsis provided by Harry N. Abrams

Heiress Apparently is the first book in a planned YA series following the fictionalized descendants of the only officially recognized empress regent of China. It’s a great concept that brings history right to the fore.

There’s a lot going on in Heiress Apparently. What you think is the main plot, is Gemma getting a lead role in a movie being filmed in China. Her parents don’t want her to go there, so she keeps them in the dark. But the acting part is more of a sub-plot that focuses on stereotypical casting of Asian actors as well as the stereotypical characters themselves. It was nice to see the author give these issues weight in a way that felt natural.

But while it’s acting that brings Gemma to China, it’s the things that take place there that really drew me in. It turns out Gemma’s long-lost extended family isn’t so long lost. And expectations and consequences of them run deep.

Gemma is a likeable character who comes across as a mixture of naive and self-assured. She knows what she wants. She knows her mind. But she can sometimes be more than a little clueless.

Author Diana Ma does a great job setting the scene, although her pacing can sometimes suffer from the details. And while this book is not perfect, it has me wishing the next installment would come out soon.


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About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

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