“It sounds annoying and attention-seeking,” she writes about the fake argument she had with an old boyfriend in a crowded restaurant. “And it was.” Recalling how her teenage self treated her younger sister, Wu admits she was “mean and controlling.” Wu describes a misguided grudge she held against her “Fresh Off the Boat” co-star Randall Park, and says, “Looking back, I cringe at my childish behavior.”
But “Making a Scene” is less a mea culpa than a meditation on those mistakes (although there is a chapter titled “An Apology”). This willingness to not just address her faults, but to wrestle with them, makes Wu’s memoir all the richer. Throw in his talent for vivid staging, plus an understanding that reflection is nothing without introspection, and the “Crazy Rich Asians” star delivers a page-turner that amounts to much more than its headline-grabbing revelations.
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When Wu opens up about her trauma, she finds purpose in the retelling. Her harrowing recollection of being raped at age 22 by a man 14 years her senior becomes a nuanced interrogation of the “cool girl” and “good guy” clichés. Wu’s allegation that she was sexually harassed by a “Fresh Off the Boat” producer, identified only by the initial “M,” and her instinct to let that behavior slide until the show flourished spawns a conversation about Hollywood’s toxic power dynamics. “It’s unfortunate that success was a prerequisite for basic human respect for an actress — but that was the reality I learned when I got a TV show,” Wu writes. “It was disturbing and confusing.”
As Wu hinted in a July statement on social media, the book also documents her 2019 suicide attempt amid online backlash over tweets she sent trashing “Fresh Off the Boat’s” renewal. Wu clarifies to a friend from the edge of her New York apartment balcony that she never wanted to take her own life, yet found herself overwhelmed by hopelessness. When she was taken to the hospital, she told two intake counselors what had happened: “That I almost jumped. That I am very impulsive. (The edge of a balcony is not a place for impulsiveness.) That I needed help.”
While “Making a Scene” is easy on the laughs — and a few attempts at humor fall flat — the overall experience isn’t as harrowing as these chapters would suggest. Rather, much of Wu’s story is driven by poignant memories of her various flings and loves. Her lustful liaison with Rob, the maitre d’ at an upscale New York restaurant where she was a waitress, paints an all-too-relatable picture of a burning romance slowly losing steam. Wu’s years-long on-again, off-again dynamic with a boyfriend makes for a painful account of unrequited romance. The twists and turns of a long-term friends-with-benefits relationship wouldn’t be out of place in a rom-com.
Oddly, the catharsis of Wu connecting with her current partner — musician Ryan Kattner, with whom she welcomed a daughter in 2020 — never comes, as Kattner is only mentioned in passing. Wu thinks initially being similarly reticent when it comes to her separated parents. But she saves the devastating tale for the final chapter, detailing their troubled marriage and nasty divorce, all the while thoughtfully recontextualizing their parentage in her own decision to become a mother.
Wu displays the ability to extract meaning from the smaller essays, for example about her teenage job at a cozy bakery, or her idiosyncratic love of rabbits. She also writes about her formative forays into community theater with endearing enthusiasm, and Virginians will enjoy the countless references to her Richmond upbringing—shout-outs to Kings Dominion, Monument Avenue, and the community’s enduring hospitality among them. And Wu offers thoughtful observations about the pressures and prejudices of navigating Hollywood as an Asian-American woman, especially when it comes to countering the cultural criticism of “Fresh Off the Boat.”
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At one point, describing a confession to a friend in high school, Wu writes, “What a relief it was to share something bad about myself and still be loved!” Readers will decide whether that’s the case with “Making a Scene,” but if nothing else, she deserves credit for exposing herself to scrutiny. In a clever device, Wu writes some particularly candid exchanges like scenes from a script. It’s a welcome break in structure for an actress who, by skipping frivolous onstage anecdotes and leaning into muddled admissions, is putting her own spin on the Hollywood memoir script.
Thomas Floyd is an editor and writer for The Washington Post.
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