Since I was young, I’ve been a rule follower. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I could make myself sick trying to follow the rules that tell Asians, women and queers how they should live their lives.
“Pizza Girl,” Jean Kyoung Frazier’s 2020 debut novel, blows up all those rules.
The novel follows Jane, who is 18 years old, pregnant and works as a pizza delivery girl in Los Angeles while living with her gentle, blond baseball-playing boyfriend Billy and her Korean mom.
One day, Jane gets a call from a woman named Jenny Hauser, who asks the shop to put pickles on a pizza to recreate an old favorite dish of her eight-year-old son, who refuses to eat.
Thus begins a routine that structures the rest of the book. Jenny’s calls every Wednesday for a pizza with pickles initiate a relationship between the two that is a mix of friendship, attraction, obsession and mutual understanding.
I have never come across a character quite like Jane.
In an interview with Electric Lit, Frazier said that one of her goals in creating Jane was to resist stereotypes and tropes governing Asian people in fiction.
“When Asian people are portrayed in books or on the screen so sparingly and rigidly, as a kind of punchline, [they are] told that they can only be relevant by acting a very specific way,” Frazier said.
Frazier has succeeded. Jane is a mix of weird, endearing and extremely problematic.
Take, for example, her relationship with Jenny, a woman older than her mother.
It is clear that Jane’s fascination with Jenny is, as she puts it, “at least a little sexual.” When she delivers the first pizza to Jenny’s big, suburban house and sees Jenny for the first time, Jane fixates on Jenny’s long, blond ponytail. Later, she fantasizes about wrapping it around her hands and face before kissing Jenny.
Throughout the book, Jane often combines everyday occurrences with eroticism in her odd yet interesting fantasies about Jenny. Jane tells us: “I often pictured [me and Jenny] standing close but not touching, saying ‘Hey’ back and forth, her breath meaty and sour.”
Although I’ve read the book twice now, I still don’t really understand Jane’s obsession with Jenny. But to me, Jenny seems like the white suburban mom equivalent of a manic pixie dream girl — so she has dropped out of college and has regrets and drinks and sometimes leaves her kid home alone and has a ponytail — what’s the big deal?
I personally find Jane’s fantasies with Jenny more than a little weird. But the visceral response they provoked in me, although slightly disturbing, was also why I loved them.
Frazier’s words scratched an itch in my brain, an itch I have for representations of queer sex that provoke and refuse to fit neatly in comfortable, sanitized or sanitary representations of queerness.
In Jane’s weirdness, there is freedom.
Another thing that fascinates me about Jane is that she has no plans at all for the future.
When Billy asks her what she wants to do after high school, she says that she doesn’t know. Trying to prod her into action, he asks her what she likes to do.
Jane responds: “I liked eating cereal early in the morning on the front steps of the house, seeing how sure and confident Mom’s hands moved when she folded laundry … reading under trees and watching sunlight leak through the leaves above and cast strange patterns on my skin and the pages … none of these answers were what he was looking for.”
The same interview mentioned above described “Pizza Girl” as part of the genre of “slacker fiction.” Daphne Palasi Andreades defines the genre as one in which narrators “don’t give two shits about social norms and, through their inaction, critique received notions of how we’ve been taught to exist in the world.”
Frazier said that she intentionally wanted to create a slacker who resisted the stereotype of the white man that dominates much of slacker fiction — think J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” an extremely overrated book, in my opinion.
“It may seem like no big deal, but by having slacker fiction be male-dominated, it’s perpetuating the idea that aimlessly fucking around is a specifically male thing,” Frazier said. “Even if it’s not outright saying it, what it translates to is that women are held to different standards — they exist to watch men fuck around.”
Reading Frazier’s reflection on “Pizza Girl,” I understood why I love Jane so much.
Jane makes terrible decisions, does really weird, confusing things and sometimes hurts the people she loves. But so do I. So do all of us.
Growing up in my family, I was the successful child, the one who got good grades and never got into any trouble. My brother was the slacker — Don’t worry, I asked him if I could call him that and he said yes. He never liked school, preferring to get high, make music and ride around on his mountain bike.
I used to judge him so harshly. But ever since getting to college, I’ve realized that I respect him a lot. Even though some of his actions were fueled by pain and hurt, it also took a lot of courage to decide that he didn’t give a fuck about society’s or our parents’ expectations of him.
Recently, in my own way, I’ve been trying to slack more — do less, watch the shadows of the leaves more. Because, as Frazier pointed out, what is slacking but refusing to follow society’s expectations of productivity and success?
Despite her many, many mistakes, Jane is still loved. In Jane, Frazier has successfully created the queer biracial Asian slacker that I, a queer biracial Asian slacker-in-the-making, didn’t know I needed.
For me, reading “Pizza Girl” was the experience of being seen, heard and healed. I can’t recommend it enough.
Reia Li PO ’24 is a gaysian wasian.