Listen to the Squawking Chicken

When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

Most people think I’m exaggerating at first when I talk about the Chinese Squawking Chicken. But once they actually spend some time with her, they understand. They get it. Right away. She’s Chinese, she squawks like a chicken, she is totally nuts, and I am totally dependent on her.

When Elaine Lui was growing up, her mother told her, “Why do you need to prepare for the good things that happen? They’re good. They won’t hurt you. My job is to prepare you for the hard times, and teach you how to avoid them, whenever possible.” Neither traditionally Eastern nor conventionally Western, the Squawking Chicken raised her daughter drawing on Chinese fortune-telling, feng shui blackmail, good old-fashioned ghost stories, and shame and embarrassment in equal measure. And despite years of chafing against her mother’s parenting style, Elaine came to recognize the hidden wisdom—and immeasurable value—in her rather unorthodox upbringing.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice and warnings used to teach Elaine about hard work (“Miss Hong Kong is a whore”), humility (“I should have given birth to a piece of barbecue pork”), love and friendship, family loyalty (“Where’s my money?”), style and deportment (“Don’t be low classy”), finding one’s own voice (“Walk like an elephant, squawk like a chicken”) among other essentials. Along the way, Elaine poignantly reveals how her mother earned the nickname “Tsiahng Gai” or “squawking chicken” growing up in Hong Kong, enduring and rising from the ashes of her own hard times.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken is a loving mother-daughter memoir that will have readers laughing out loud, gasping in shock, and reconsidering the honesty and guts it takes to be a parent.

Reviews

I devoured this book in one sitting … alternately cheering, laughing, cringing and gasping in horror. Lui captures the complexity of a mother-daughter relationship that is both complicated and beautiful, poignant with a bare honesty that may make you think (and rethink) your own relationships.”
—Jenny Lawson, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
 
“What an incredible character is the Squawking Chicken—she’s a movie, an Amy Tan novel, and a sitcom all rolled into one. Fans of Elaine Lui’s website, LaineyGossip.com, have long wondered where that smart, exacting, hilarious, opinionated, and highly moral (though never moralistic) voice came from. Lui answers this question herself with her beautifully written and fiercely funny book, giving all the credit to her mother, the indomitable Squawking Chicken. By turns deeply moving, shocking and hilarious, this is a story of atypical parenting, cultural complexities and one daughter’s capacity for forgiveness, compassion and love. I didn’t want it to end.”
—Lisa Gabriele, author of the SECRET trilogy and The Almost Archer Sisters
 
“Elaine Lui has written one remarkable and dangerous book. It had me laughing till I rolled off the bed, rearranging my living room furniture in a panic at 3:00 a.m. to achieve proper feng shui, and calling my mother out of pure guilt. The Squawking Chicken could eat any Tiger Mom for lunch.”
—Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
 
“Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I read it compulsively, wide-eyed and devouring: Lui’s writing is sharp, humorous, and deliciously readable, like a long, insightful letter from your best friend. Listen to the Squawking Chicken asks you to reflect on what you think about loyalty, shame, pride and love—themes that all mothers and daughters know deeply. This book made me reconsider what it means to be a daughter. I loved it. I can’t wait to give it to my mother.”
—Sarah Selecky, author of This Cake Is for the Party
 
“At first glance, Elaine Lui may seem like the perfect Tiger Daughter. But she’s so much more. She writes about her beloved Squawking Chicken with both clarity and compassion—not only as a mother, but as a whole person, vexing, loving, guarded, open, and one of the most fascinating characters you’ll encounter in memoir.”
—Johanna Schneller, Columnist, The Globe and Mail
 
“I learned more about Chinese culture from this book…than I did all the time I was in Hong Kong and all I have read about it. If you have ever puzzled over feng shui, or any other ancient practice that has made it into modern Chinese culture, you will get a cogent explanation here. The Squawking Chicken is not by a long shot a perfect mother, yet she is a totally memorable character. The beauty of the book is the daughter’s unconditional love for her mother, which by the end of the book, the reader shares.”
—Catherine Gildiner, author of Too Close to the Falls and After the Falls
 
“When I fell in love with The Glass Castle it struck me with some satisfaction that Jeanette Walls, a gossip columnist, after all those years of writing about the biggest narcissists in town had such a profound story to tell about herself. Elaine ‘Lainey’ Lui’s Listen to the Squawking Chicken is a very different mother-daughter memoir, but, to me, just as fascinating, written in its own kind of snappy poetry, with an abundance of love and economy of language that could make it an instant pop culture classic. Now never mention Jessica Alba or Justin Timberlake ever again.”
—Emma Forrest, author of Your Voice in My Head

“Wise and funny and poignant, Listen to the Squawking Chicken is an unflinching look at the enduring bond between mother and daughter. I read this book in one sitting, fascinated by Elaine Lui’s stories of her mother—and most of all, by the ‘Squawking Chicken’ herself. Every woman can identify with the experiences of a daughter who grew up feeling awed and inspired by a mother who loves her daughter enough to reveal both the harsh truth and the unexpected magic in life… . I am so jealous that I cannot sit down with Lainey’s mom and have tea, get my ass kicked at mah-jong, and get some advice about how to better attract luck as a ‘Dragon.’ I want a Squawking Chicken of my own!”
—Beth Kendrick, author of The Week Before the Wedding
 
Listen to the Squawking Chicken is authentic, heartbreaking and funny. Lui writes with the truest form of humor, grounded in pain, honesty and insight, and despite everything, Lui’s love for her mother shines true. This is a book that will challenge and resonate with mothers and daughters everywhere.”
—Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown

“Bold and fresh, Elaine Lui’s writing took me on a journey filled with bittersweet verve and breathtaking grace. Forget what you think you know about life, and enter the world of the Squawking Chicken. This is a love story you won’t soon forget.”
—Ami McKay, author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure