Boston-based author Aube Rey Lescure is making her debut with book "River East, River West,"a coming-of-age tale, part family and social drama, that explores two generations searching for belonging in developing modern China. 

In 2007, 14-year-old Alva, who grew up in Shanghai, is convinced a better life is meant for her in the U.S., where her expat mother is from. Her hopes for an American dream are crushed when her mother marries their wealthy Chinese landlord, Lu Fang. But, with their newfound wealth comes the chance to attend the American School in Shanghai.

In 1985, Lu Fang lives in the small seaside city of Qingdao, who’s world changes when he meets an American woman who comes with some of the first waves of foreigners to the country in decades. Alternating between the points of views of rebellious Alva and her stepfather, Lu Fang, the novel explores race, class, cultural identity and belonging in a rapidly changing world. 

Rey Lescure is a writer who grew up between Shanghai, northern China, and the south of France. She was the 2019 Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and a Pauline Scheer Fellow at GrubStreet. Rey Lescure joined GBH News to talk about her new book, which is out now. Lightly edited excerpts from the interview are below, and you can listen to the full interview by clicking the player at the top of this page.

Haley Lerner: When did you decide this was the debut book that you wanted to write?

Aube Rey Lescure: I always knew that this would be the first long form book I could write. I always say this, I'm not very imaginative. So I knew I was going to write a debut based on my lived experiences. And I grew up in northern China and Shanghai until I was 16 with an expat mom, which will sound suspiciously familiar to anyone who's read the plot summary of my book.

It was really an era for many socioeconomic and cultural changes in China. Especially in hindsight, now that I'm older, I find it to be a fascinating time to have come of age there.

Lerner: This book alternates between the perspectives of 14-year-old Alva in 2007 and then the perspective of her stepfather, Lu Fang, in 1985. What made you decide to tell the story through these very different perspectives?

Rey Lescure: That's actually a decision I made later on in the process of writing the novel to incorporate Lu Fang’s perspective. I was part of the Novel Incubator program run by GrubStreetin Boston. At the time, I only had a manuscript with Alva's perspective because, as I mentioned, it was really an autobiographical project at first.

I was writing about my own coming of age, and my classmates rightfully pointed out that Lu Fang was a character who really was the beating heart and complicated moral hero of the novel.

I also wanted to juxtapose Alva's personal sense of history, which is such a small blip in the span of a country's lifetime or her parents' generation's lifetime with this larger, sprawling narrative that Lu Fang represents, because his past very much parallels the decades of development of a modernizing China.

Lerner: Alva grapples with her half American identity, though she's never been to the U.S. herself. Can you talk a little bit about this particular conflict and how it shapes her character?

Rey Lescure: I wanted to be really careful to portray America only as an allusion through Alva’s eyes, as opposed to a real country that she was knowledgeable about.

The pull she feels towards the West is really about this idealized version of America she has in her head. That vision mainly comes from movies and TV shows that she watches from illegal pirated DVDs that she and her mom buy from a street vendor.

A lot of that was my own experience of Western media growing up. There really was a DVD man living on my street corner.

I remember having the sense when I was a teenager that "Gossip Girl" and "90210" and "The Secret Life of an American Teenager," that was the adolescence teens in the West were having. And it was so thrilling and so sexy and so glamorous, and I was being denied something by not living in that milieu. I hope the satire and the joke is kind of obvious to Western readers picking up this book.

Lerner: What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

Rey Lescure: I really wanted to create a kind of universal coming-of-age tale. I wanted them to feel fully immersed in the daily granularity of going to school in China and doing the morning exercises and going to the flag raising ceremonies, or going to Family Mart to buy junk food after school. I was hoping to kind of create this immediacy and intimacy through this perspective, even though it's a world readers might not know at all.

I think in this era of geopolitical tensions and China always being in the news as a political entity, I wanted to kind of lead readers into a more personal layer and experience of Chinese society.

Aube Rey Lescure will be in conversation with Stacy Mattingly at a launch party event hosted by GrubStreet and Porter Square Books in Boston on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. She also has events celebrating her book at Beacon Hill Books on Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., at RiffRaff Bookstore in Providence on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m and at Brookline Booksmith on March 4 at 7 p.m.