Girl OilGirl Oil by Grace P. Fong
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

Wenqian sits a few rows over, and I realize she no longer intimidates me. My nightly ritual has burned away the shameful parts of my body and filled the rest with fire.

i think i #missedthepoint of this one. here be spoilers, but this ‘review’ barely makes any sense—it’s just a muddle of questions, so feel free to skip it on either or both of those grounds.

i’m having some problems with this one, and since this was apparently the second-place winner of the LeVar Burton Reads competition (after the winning-winner The Last Truth), i know it’s a me-problem and not a story-problem.

i’m not faulting the writing—she does an excellent job getting across michelle’s constant state of wallowing in shame and discomfort over her appearance; consumed with her negative body image and blaming what she sees as her physical imperfections on all of her life’s disappointments: career, unrequited love, etc.

and what she and wenqian reveal of themselves as they each audition for the same role is a slick way of bringing additional depth to their characters:

Preston’s father exchanges lines with me as Billy, the reluctant hero destined to win the tournament and the pretty white girl. Lana only exists on a paper, but I understand her: overlooked, underestimated, taken for granted. I fill her anger and desire with my own, and it carries through my voice, my face, my body. The dialogue finishes, and I’m almost in tears.

Parker takes notes in his phone as he speaks to me. “I originally conceived Lana as a quiet character, but you’ve got a style that’s edgier, more aggressive, kinda dragon lady . . . I like that.


They watch the rest of her performance right through me. Her Lana is not mine, but she is beautiful: sweet and shy and heartbreaking, filled with an honest ambition. She yearns for affection and survival in a world that sees her as an outsider. She is painfully aware her love interest cannot truly understand her or her origin. As I watch, I realize this is not only Lana, this is Wenqian.

but, like, what’s the message here? because it’s not “accept yourself, warts and all” because wenqian uses the same product and she’s thriving in the precise ways michelle wants to thrive. so, what, self-transformation thru magical means is okay in moderation, but if you try to correct too much without working for it, your story becomes a tragedy and your only recourse is to throw your invisible body into the sea?

acting, particularly for women, particularly for asian women, where fewer roles means more competition for those roles, is a job that necessitates a preoccupation with physical appearance, which is why physical trainers and stylists exist, but for those just starting out, a magical serum that does that work before the big break provides the mean$ to afford those professional services seems like a smart career move. and both girls take the risks of using a mysterious product that gives them an edge in that department, but—what—michelle uses too much, too quickly and she’s punished for it? even though, according to her own self-assessment, she had more imperfections to correct to make her camera-ready?

and i’m not sure what this is suggesting:

I look at Wenquian, and I understand her now. She’s someone who carves her own path with sharp words and acrylic fingernails because she’s never had one laid for her. Perhaps she will make better, less desperate and naive, use of this. I leave the bottle on her desk.

if their goals are the same, how is wenqian’s intent any less desperate and naive? maybe i read this one too early in the day, before my brain woke up, but i’m just gonna move on and call it a day. the story is perfectly enjoyable, i just don’t know what i was meant to take away from it.

read it for yourself here:…

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