I came across The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World (Center Street, 2017) by Kristin Rockaway on Amazon and when I read it partially takes place in Hong Kong, I quickly ordered it. Not only is it rare to find a mainstream novel set in Hong Kong (at least among those published in the US), but it’s almost unheard of in women’s lit.
The book opens with a girls’ trip in Hong Kong. Sophie and her best friend Elena are at the Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon when Elena lets Sophie in on a change of plans. Instead of spending the next week in Hong Kong with Sophie, Elena wants out. Like now.
Sophie wasn’t planning on hanging out in Hong Kong alone for a week, but she’s independent enough where she wouldn’t have a problem with that. She’s more concerned about her friendship with Elena and is hurt when Elena calls her selfish and passionless.
Soon after Elena takes leave of Sophie–in the middle of the Temple Street market–Sophie heads back across the harbor to Lan Kwai Fong and meets a dreamy American traveler/artist who’s been on the road for months and has no job, no career, and no direction in his life other than to enjoy the moment. Carson isn’t Sophie’s type except that he’s hot and super nice and so attentive. When he convinces her to duck out of Hong Kong for a couple days in Macau, Sophie needs some convincing because she’s definitely not a spontaneous kind of woman. But she gives in and she and Carson spend a romantic couple of days in Macau, living by the moment.
Back in Hong Kong, Sophie has a tough choice: stay with Carson and extend her vacation, even though she wouldn’t have the permission of her boss, or fly back to New York to her management consulting job. She weighs the pros and cons and ends up back in New York.
Kristin Rockaway’s Hong Kong is knowledgeable and vivid. She gets the nuances of Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai. I don’t see anything in her bio that shows she’s lived there, so it’s impressive she knows Hong Kong so well, especially when it comes to food. Ditto with Macau.
In New York, Sophie is back at her job, enduring sexual harassment from the big boss’s obnoxious son. She and Carson talk on the phone, but Sophie feels this is pointless since his next stop is Australia and they don’t have any plans to see each other again. So Sophie is shocked and a little worried when Carson shows up to her office when he’s supposed to be in Australia.
Along the way there are little hints of how Carson could be totally unstable and a stalker, as well as how Sophie may be making huge mistakes by letting Carson get so close to her when she doesn’t know him very well. So the reader doesn’t know what to expect as the two continue to grow closer until one day it all implodes in their faces, as rom-coms and women’s lit always does.
Rockaway also brings New York to life in her pages. The books is a fun, racy read and continues to carry the Hong Kong setting throughout the book even when the characters are in New York.