Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops
Allison Hong Merrill
She Writes Press (2021)
Reviewed by Ashley Hooker for Reader Views (01/2022)
Allison Hong Merrill gives readers a vivid picture of what it’s truly like to be an immigrant woman in America in her book, “Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops.” A native of Taiwan, Allison moved to the U.S. with grandiose ideas of what her life could and would be like. This memoir is a reminder of all the pain and very real hardships that those born on American soil tend to forget.
Born and raised in a traditional Taiwanese family, the author’s childhood was filled with adversity and heartache. Her mom is not there emotionally, and her Baba (“father”) is an abusive man. Alcohol leads to neglect and her parents eventually divorce. But when Allison meets two young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she begins to think about how her adult life doesn’t have to be a repeat of her traumatic childhood. Becoming a member of the church, she soon meets the man she would one day call her husband.
Cameron and Allison wed and she moves to America. Allison’s family has mixed feelings about her marriage and the God she is now serving. They wanted her to go to the university and become a professional—then, they would have bragging rights. The wedded bliss doesn’t last long. Soon Allison learns who Cameron and his family really are, and the truth is not good. Her life changes drastically one day when she comes home to find herself in the dark and the cold with absolutely no money to her name. But her journey to the place where she finds healing is a truly remarkable one.
As an American born on American soil, I cannot begin to imagine what she was feeling. What I took faith in was the love of her church and the people she surrounded herself with while figuring out the next steps. Because I am a Christian, I understand how important it is for the church to help members of its flock. It was reassuring when Allison reached out to her church and received that much-needed help. Personally, I have been in a position that involved needing help and feeling like I had become a charity case. Just like Allison, however, I can look back and see the love and heart that was extended to me through charity.
The most fascinating part of Allison’s story was how she fused her Taiwanese culture with American culture. I found it amazing that she was able to accept being disowned by her father. The funeral of her mother seemed unusual to me, but Allison went along with tradition. She did not shy away from where she came from. She may not have been giddy about her past, but she understood clearly that her past is what made her who she was and who she would become.
The author did a fantastic job keeping her story flowing and interesting. She uses language from both America and Taiwan, and the utilization of both languages gives an added flair to her memoir which keeps readers turning the pages. Allison is also forthcoming with her thoughts and feelings. She does not try to hide anything; she shares her emotions easily, making her story real and relatable. Overall, Allison Hong Merrill has given us a story of sorrow, perseverance, and love. She has taught me about the trials immigrants deal with in order to achieve the elusive “American dream,” and her story is one for people of all ages.