Reviews for Counterfeit

by Kirstin Chen

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

What a tangled web we weave when first we practice selling fake designer handbags. Chen rejiggers some of the ingredients of her debut, Soy Sauce for Beginners (2014), and comes up with a winner in this clever, sharp, and slyly funny novel about a long con. Ava Wong, a Chinese American Stanford grad, has left her corporate position to be a full-time mom, but little Henri is such a terror she ends up delegating him to a nanny. Meanwhile, her surgeon husband, a Frenchman named Olivier, is working so hard to support the family that he takes an apartment near the hospital in Palo Alto. These disappointments leave her particularly vulnerable to the influence of the evil Winnie Fang. From mainland China, Winnie was Ava’s roommate freshman year of college until she had to withdraw from school under the cloud of an SAT cheating scandal. All these years later, she's back, and boy, has she changed. She’s had eyelid surgery, lost the accent, attained American citizenship, and is carrying the ultimate status symbol—a Birkin bag. A couple pages in, we learn that this narrative of renewed friendship is being delivered to a detective. It seems Ava was manipulated into working with Winnie in her global handbag scam. Her job was to buy a high-end purse at a luxury shop, then return it a few days later for credit. Meanwhile, the return is actually a meticulously counterfeited duplicate manufactured in China, and the real one is sold on eBay at a discount. As the story glides among San Francisco, Hong Kong, and China, Chen turns the stereotype of the docile Asian woman on its head. She also has great fun with status details, from collegiate Winnie’s “pink T-shirt with the words cuty pie plastered across the front in mulitcolored rhinestones” to the “rare crocodile Birkin 25, the color of merlot, of rubies, of blood...worth at least forty thousand dollars” that Ava receives during a classic over-the-top, all-night business deal. A delightfully different caper novel with a Gone Girl–style plot twist. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Chen (Bury What We Cannot Take) spins a clever tale offering two sides of a story involving a complicated friendship and knockoff handbags. When Ava Wong’s former Stanford roommate Winnie Fang reenters her hectic San Francisco life, 20 years after graduation, Ava is the frazzled mother of a tantrum-prone two-year-old, married to a prominent surgeon, and on hiatus from a tax law career she can’t stand. Winnie, on the other hand, has gone from nerd to gorgeous—and she’s clearly rich. Ava, whose marriage is on the rocks, is dazzled by her friend’s physical and financial makeover, then finds out it’s all courtesy of a luxury handbag counterfeit scheme. While Ava is on an impulsive trip visiting family in Hong Kong, her husband cancels her credit and debit cards—leading Ava to reluctantly work with Winnie, whose goods come from China. The novel’s second half picks up with Winnie’s point of view, in which Ava is characterized as scheming and manipulative, making canny moves such as leaving a cellphone at a friend’s house to secure an alibi while trafficking contraband. Readers face a choice: whose perception is real—and whose is counterfeit? The story is further deepened by the author’s sharp, convincing details of the fashion industry and its shadow market, which lends this tale of fakes the tang of authenticity. Readers will be left guessing at the truth until the last page. (June)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

When Ava Wong reconnects with her college roommate, she doesn’t expect to get caught up in an international crime ring. Winnie Fang—who left Stanford in disgrace after a cheating scandal—is back in San Francisco and making money hand over fist. Winnie purchases high-end bags: Prada, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton. She sells them on eBay and then returns her purchases, swapping them with quality replicas from China. Ava gets involved while on a trip to China with her young son. Winnie wants her to run an errand, and Ava’s credit cards are frozen after a fight with her husband. Eventually, Ava uses her newfound fortune on medical treatments and preschool for her son. Now, Ava can’t get out of Winnie’s clutches—or can she? Ava tells this story to a detective through her first-person perspective, explaining the whirlwind of events that led her into the mess. Chen’s third novel is sly and subversive, an examination of motherhood and an incisive look at culture and class. When Ava carries her replica bag, people assume she’s rich. The handbags are status symbols, but no one truly knows what’s going on behind the persona. A read-alike for Amelia Morris’ Wildcat (2022), with a touch of crime.