Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.

“Language is a cross-cultural love story of chatty merchants, violated verb conjugations, insolvent loan words, and forgotten Latin declensions. Language is a giant swingers party where slang swaps partners with grammar. Language is an hourglass of human culture, a vivid ekphrasis of the physical world,” (Bliss 112-113).

I followed the Calvinist Method while reading Jackson Bliss’ Dream Pop Origami, meaning I read the book from beginning to end like any old book only because it was difficult to get to the page I wanted to using the “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” model on a PDF. I attempted to read it backwards as well because I didn’t want to follow the status quo but that just ended up stressing me out, so Calvinist-status-quoing it was! The plus to that method is that I got to read every bit of the memoir, because the thing with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books is that you never really get to read the whole story, just the story you choose. Unless you start again and choose a different adventure, honestly I’ve never been a big “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” fan so I really don’t know how you “finish” a book of that genre, only that I very literally did so by reading Dream Pop Origami in order. I will say one of the drawbacks to that is that it does get repetitive at times, certain facts and parts of Bliss’ life are repeated, but then again a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book isn’t really meant to be read chronologically.

While not the first Choose-Your-Own-Adventure memoirDream Pop Origami is the first I’ve read and even though I arguably didn’t read it “properly,” I did enjoy it. Bliss tells his story in a variety of ways, including lists of favourite music, places he has enjoyed visiting and hopes to visit, favourite (worst) pranks, words that have stuck with him and many many more lists I’m probably forgetting and a “Bad Nisei Quiz” that offer a glimpse into who Bliss is as a person, the little things he enjoys, dislikes, and remembers that makes him who he is. It’s clear too that language matters so much to Bliss and that he recognizes the power that every word holds, from acting as a translator to a person seeking asylum and having to choose the person’s words oh so carefully to the words that have hurt him in his past. In many ways this memoir is a love language to words and it’s clear to see how much care Bliss has put in this collection.

Bliss is also not afraid to let his emotions out: his sadness, his grief, the things that make him happy and the things that make him cry, but there is also a lot of anger. Much of it is warranted, from an unstable childhood and going to four different high schools in four years (which really and truly sucks) to neglectful and at times abusive parents, I expect anger at those things, that’s valid. But there’s also anger at himself not being recognized as a great writer, and at times it comes across as though Bliss believes his words are more deserving of publication than others, especially white women. And I do understand that, I am a white woman and I acknowledge that a lot of books by white authors are accepted by agents and publishing houses over diverse authors. I also agree that a lot of times in publishing some stories get written and published that aren’t necessarily good but because they sell and because the author is white. That’s capitalism, white privilege, and it sucks, and reader’s need to read more diversely and publishers need to accept more diverse material, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to whether or not their stories are less deserving of publication over Bliss’. 

One of the strongest things about Dream Pop Origami is Bliss’ pride in his Nisei and hapa identities and his deep love for his obāchan. Bliss can pass as white and writes about the struggles of being mistaken as a white man instead of acknowledged for his mixed-race identity and goes into detail about how important his Japanese heritage and family are to his identity. Bliss is proud of who he is and works to educate reader’s on mixed-race individuals and their struggles, how many people (usually white) make judgements and assumptions based on his appearance rather than all of who he actually is. A lot of his pride in his Japanese heritage comes from his love for his obāchan. He speaks of her with a reverence, a deep sadness, and an anger at the terrible abuse she faced in life. It was beautiful to read the essays about his obāchan and how much of an impact she made on his life, and I can’t help but wonder if he’d ever write a book solely on her. The material and care is there but I also understand it’s a sensitive subject, but he writes with such tenderness and fierce love to her that I definitely think something is there were he ever to choose to pursue that.

There were some things that irked me though. Repeatedly throughout the memoir Bliss talks about how much he enjoys it when young women, particularly teenagers, flirt with him. In Chapter 46, “Things I Used to Be Ashamed of, (But Have Made Progress With),” Bliss says that he isn’t ashamed of “the (absurd) joy it gives me when younger women flirt with me (I apologize for nothing),” (Bliss 187) and this sentiment is repeated in different ways on pages 261, 291. There really isn’t anything wrong with being flattered by someone finding you attractive, and Bliss makes it clear it’s just the act of being flirted with that he enjoys, so I honestly can’t properly word why it irked me. Perhaps it was the repetition of it? He’s not apologizing and nor should he have to, it’s his memoir and he’s acknowledging that he likes it when younger women flirt with him, I just wish I had more words as to why this bugged me.

I also thought it was weird that Bliss writes that “marriage is slow-motion asexuality” when in the same chapter notes the unfair difficulties that queer and trans people have when wanting to get married. Ace people get married to and also face a lot of unfair difficulties do to how little asexuality is talked about and understood. However, I  acknowledge that Bliss is more so commenting on a worry of a decreased sex life once getting married and not ace people themselves, I just wish it had been worded in a different way. I also acknowledge that the chapter I’m referring to focuses on Bliss’ change in attitude towards marriage and that I’m being nitpicky. 

Overall, Dream Pop Origami is a wonderful memoir that takes reader’s on a journey of their choosing of what makes Jackson Bliss Jackson Bliss. There’s happy moments, sad moments, many lists and a quiz along the way that make up an author that has put so much care into this work. Long time fans of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories will love this one-of-a-kind journey through this author’s life.

61141790Publication: July 26 2022
Publisher: Unsolicited Press
Pages: 314 pages (PDF)
Source: TNBBC (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Own Voices
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤.5

Dream Pop Origami is a beautiful, ambitious, interactive, and engrossing lyrical memoir about mixed-race identity, love, travel, AAPI masculinities, and personal metamorphosis. This experimental work of creative nonfiction examines, celebrates, and complicates what it means to be Asian & white, Nisei & hapa, Midwestern & Californian, Buddhist & American at the same time. In this stunning collection of choose-your-own-essays and autobiographical lists, multiracial identity is a counterpoint of memory, language, reflection, and imagination intersecting and interweaving into a coherent tapestry of text, emotion, and voice.


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