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Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu

A Novel by Yi Shun Lai

ISBN 978-0-9913555-8-7, paperback, 204 pages, $18.95, May 2016

Semi-Finalist, 2017 Thurber Prize for American Humor

Marty Wu, compulsive reader of advice manuals, would love to come across as a poised young advertising professional. Instead she trips over her own feet and blurts out inappropriate comments. The bulk of her brain matter, she decides, consists of gerbils “spinning madly in alternating directions.”

Marty hopes to someday open a boutique costume shop, but it’s hard to keep focused on her dream. First comes a spectacular career meltdown that sends her ricocheting between the stress of New York and the warmth of supportive relatives in Taiwan. Then she faces one domestic drama after another, with a formidable mother who’s impossible to please, an annoyingly successful and well-adjusted brother, and surprising family secrets that pop up just when she doesn’t want to deal with them.

Mining the comedic potential of the 1.5-generation American experience, Not a Self-Help Book is an insightful and witty portrait of a young woman scrambling to balance familial expectations and her own creative dreams.

Born in Taiwan and raised in the U.S., debut novelist YI SHUN LAI has written everything from copy for lingerie catalogs to articles about the great outdoors. She lives in Southern California with her husband and dog. Visit her online at

Reviews and Press Coverage

Reviews: Book Riot; Booklist; The Collagist; Hyphen Magazine: Asian America Unabridged; Literary Mama; PANK Magazine; SELF Magazine; Tahoma Literary Review; Small Press Picks; Start with a Story; Necessary Fiction; Books, Not People; Write by Night; Practicing Writing

“Best Of” lists: Book Riot’s Small Press Books to Read in June; Book Riot’s 2016 Guide to Wonderful Books from Indie Presses; SELF Magazine’s 14 Books for Your New Year’s Resolution

Interviews: The Margins (Asian American Writers’ Workshop); ROAR; Flavorwire; Grab the Lapels; Minorities in Publishing; Jane Friedman; Write by Night; Joy Sandwich

Readings and author appearances: Google Talk series; Women & Children First Bookstore (Chicago), Word Up Community Bookstore (New York), HITCHED reading series (Los Angeles), and other venues

Praise for Not a Self-Help Book

Laughable and fast, but with a darker undercurrent…. Yi Shun Lai brings her knowledge of old-world tradition to a modern landscape. She picks at the knot of the mother-daughter relationship in a context of clashing cultures with a radical style that calls together a universal audience. In Not a Self-Help Book, Lai creates a new kind of hero for the newest generation of readers. —Literary Mama

An expert combination of humor and deep feeling. . . . Digs deep into the particular challenges of defining and asserting an artistic identity in the world. —PANK Magazine

Ceaselessly surprising and entertaining, . . . Lai’s debut is an unexpectedly radical book on our deeply complicated relations with parents.—Hyphen Magazine: Asian America Unabridged

That the narrative is driven by an emotional, rather than life-or-death, dilemma does not diminish its tension…. Simultaneously sardonic and sincere, Marty speaks to her diary (and to the reader) as one might address a very good friend, … [which] makes you feel closely connected to the story.—The Collagist

“The breezy style and short chapters make this one perfect to sneak in when you need a bit of commiseration over family woes and best-laid plans gone awry.”— SELF Magazine

Adopts an exhilarating, almost manic pace from the start and never lets up.—Tahoma Literary Review

Both harrowing and incredibly funny.—Small Press Picks

A heroine for a new era, a wacky, wistful, hyped-up version of our own inner anxieties.—Start with a Story

Exploring family dynamics, mental health, millennial un-mooring, cultural difference, and generational misunderstandings, Not a Self-Help Book gives voice to a generation of immigrants caught amidst multiple ways of being in the world.—Books, Not People

A breezy and charming tale. . . . Anyone who’s grown up immersed in a profoundly rich old-world culture and feels its constant pull will commiserate—and be entertained. —Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family

From New York to Taiwan and back again, Marty Wu will make you laugh, make you cringe, and make you hope for the best even when it seems impossible. —Miriam Gershow, author of The Local News

By turns humorous and harrowing, Not a Self-Help Book displays Yi Shun Lai’s astute observations of family conflict and cultural complexities. . . . Pulled by loyalty to her family—especially to her psychologically damaged, emotionally abusive mother—and her own aspirations, Marty’s journey is sad, funny, maddening, and ultimately uplifting. —Anjali Banerjee, author of Haunting Jasmine

One part joy, two parts laughter, and three parts I-can’t-believe-she-just-did-that, Lai’s dynamic narration introduces us to voices as surprising as they are satisfying. A story honest as it is heartbreakingly hilarious. —Camille Griep, author of Letters to Zell

Quirky, hilarious, and continually surprising, Not a Self-Help Book takes us across the world and back on a breathless search for personal meaning. Anyone who has ever felt trapped between her dreams and family expectations will love this book. —Tiffany Hawk, author of Love Me Anyway