Since comedian Ali Wong shot from employed-writer-and-actor to fame with her Netflix stand-up specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, both filmed while visibly pregnant, it makes sense that her first book is styled as a series of letters to her daughters. Unfortunately, she opens them with the same mistake as Amy Poehler, confessing essentially, “I don’t really want to write a book, but I got a book deal and now I have to.” That’s not good. Fortunately, the material she begrudgingly generates mostly is.
As her husband, Justin Hakuta, puts it, Wong takes her readers to church like a “preacher who offer[s] up profane salvation.” Plenty of one-liners made me giggle for fairly superficial reasons (e.g., “Daddy came to this lunch dressed in black Lululemon pants … with his yoga mat slung over his shoulder in a yoga mat case, like a Santa Monica trophy wife running errands.”). But Hakuta’s analogy is apt: It often seems Wong shocks and awes her audience awake so she can impart sober lessons on life’s thorniest issues.
[I]t’s important to remember that immigrant parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents took the biggest, most unpredictable risk of all: They came to America, when there was no Rosetta Stone, no Google Maps, no blogs, no Airbnb, no cellphones. Some came before there were airplanes or electricity. I could never be that brave and take that kind of risk without all of that. I straight up refuse to go to a restaurant if it’s not well reviewed on Yelp. Then again, if our relatives had been able to Yelp America before coming over, they might have thought twice. Those reviews would have been mixed: “The opportunity is on point, but they kind of overdo it with the institutional racism and the guns. 3 stars.”
Or, you know, just to deliver a solid burn: “[Jessica Seinfeld’s] only real job is to not embarrass Jerry. And she’s very good at this job because … everything she does is as inoffensive as one of her husband’s jokes about missing socks.”
For the most part, the purposeful rambling works, but like others before her—Amy Schumer, Anna Kendrick, and Sarah Silverman, to name a few—Wong writes a book, she doesn’t craft it. Missing is the unsparing perfectionism that must have been behind her fabulous romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe and her Netflix specials. I wanted the tightness of essays written by Caitlin Moran and Mindy Kaling. I wanted Wong’s best effort.
That said, Dear Girls is a quick read that’s worth your time even if just for the maternal admonitions of a foul-mouthed foodie: “I’d rather catch you trafficking cocaine into Thailand in any number of orifices,” she tells her young daughters, “than see you eating at a P.F. Chang’s.”