E.L. Shen’s ‘The Queens Of New York’ A Coming-Of-Age Story About Summer, Sisterhood, & Identity

‘The Queens of New York’ author E.L. Shen. Image by Cassie Gonzales

Out June 6 in time to add to your summer reading list, E.L. Shen’s ‘The Queens Of New York‘ is a coming-of-age tale that focuses on family history, self-discovery, and all of the things that make us the people we are.

Jia Lee, Ariel Kim, and Everett Hoang are the closest of best friends. But this summer, they won’t all be together. Everett wants to bring herself one step closer to her Broadway dreams by starring in an Ohio theatre production, but soon learns that talent and drive aren’t the only things she’ll need to succeed. Ariel is going to San Francisco for a prestigious STEM scholarship, but her heart is in South Korea, where her sister died last year.

And Jia is home in Flushing, working at her parents’ Chinatown restaurant, getting to know a cute new neighbor, and dreaming of a future that can’t be guaranteed. The girls are in for a life-changing summer, full of endless possibilities and the promise of who they will become.

We had the chance to publish an excerpt from the book below to give you a teaser of what to expect in this captivating story.

There are three parts to every perfect dumpling: the skin, the meat, and the water.

Ariel is the skin—the delicate foundation that can make some- thing beautiful out of nothing.

Everett is the meat—tough, juicy, and packed with spice.

And me? I guess I’m the water, the one keeping us all together. The yellow awning letters that spell out Lee’s Dumpling House are chipped and faded (Dad still needs to repaint), but the kitchen is bustling. Sesame balls cover the counter, anxious to be deep- fried, while sweaty chefs awaken hundreds of char siu bao from their frozen slumber.

In the booth by the window, Ariel yawns.

“You can sleep on the plane,” Everett says, swatting her head.

Ariel sticks out her tongue and loudly slaps meat onto the fragile wrapper.

“Don’t mess up my dumplings,” I tease.

“Your parents’ dumplings,” Everett corrects. She gestures to our large assembly line. “And we’re basically free labor, so you can’t complain.”

I make a show of rolling my eyes but my heart dips. I’m going to miss all of this. Our early-morning dumpling masterpieces and lazy bike rides through Flushing Meadows. Sketching anime boys, Everett’s soft humming fanning the pages. Watching Ariel decimate her opponents at every debate and cheering on Everett at all her musicals. And then, ending the night squished into sleeping bags, falling asleep next to leftover fried pizza and half a dozen sheet masks.

When we met, we were seven-year-olds prancing through Queens’s annual Lunar New Year festival in our fluffy winter coats and fuzzy earmuffs. Back then, everything was simple. Our parents were volunteers, so we got there early, whizzing past closed storefronts and messing around with confetti cannons until Dad yelled at us. When it was time for the parade, we lifted our chins and marveled at the massive red dragon dragged through the streets by neighbors now part of something magical. Ten years later, we still feel that magic—in our city and in our friendship. Everett goes to her fancy private school in Manhattan and Ariel naturally placed into the best public high school in Queens, so during the school year, we only see each other on weekends.

But the summers? The summers are special. The summers are for us.

That is, of course, until they both decided to ditch me.

I want to be mad at them, but I’m not. Everett is making her dreams come true; tomorrow she’ll fly to Ohio to sing her brains out at a top-notch musical theater institute. And Ariel? Well, maybe she needs the time away. After Bea’s accident, she hid herself in homework, and Netflix, and vacuums of unread text messages. All her studying must have paid off, though, because she graduated a year early and got a full scholarship to Briston University in California. She starts in late August, but her parents are shipping her there today for an eight-week precollege program. I wish I could carry her through the San Francisco waves, but instead I’m stuck at home helping Mom and Dad with the restaurant until the heavy Queens air thins and the leaves ache for change.

As if Everett can read my thoughts, she nudges my shoulder, her hands still pinching dough folds. We crane our necks toward Ariel, who has stopped spooning meat and is staring out the window with wide, glassy eyes. The rising sun streaks her pale cheeks. Even though she’s here with us, I know she’s somewhere else entirely.

Everett stencils a question mark into the flour and we play our daily game of Who should bug Ariel first? I shake my head and she relents. Placing her finished dumpling on the platter, she clears her throat.

“Um, you okay, girlie?”

Ariel snaps toward us and immediately grabs a wrapper. “Oh,” she says, “sorry, didn’t mean to stop our production train.”

Her smile is Barbie doll plastic—a look she’s mastered since last fall.

Light begins to flood the restaurant. Seventy-five dumplings stand at attention, like little boats that might float away with Ariel into the Pacific.

“You know,” I whisper, reaching across the table to touch her sleeve, “Bea would be really proud of you.”

But Ariel won’t look at me. “Yeah,” she says, and then, standing up abruptly, “Mrs. Lee, we’re all set here!”

My mother comes out from the back in her cashmere sweater and tan slacks, permed curls grazing the nape of her neck. As hostess, she always tries to look professional even if that means wearing her one good sweater every single day. Buying another would be lang fei. Money exists to pay the bills. Riches, Mom always says, are merely a dream in the night.

Now she nods approvingly at our dumplings. “Not bad. Maybe you’ll all work here one day.”

She’s joking, but heat crawls up my necks and prickles my ears.

This is my future, I know. But not Ariel’s or Everett’s.

Ariel wipes her hands on a cloth napkin and pushes the platters forward. “Nowhere else we’d rather be, Mrs. Lee.”

She glances down at her phone and then looks back at us, lips drawn tight.

“Time for you to go, isn’t it?” I say.

Ariel nods, shifting out of the booth. Everett is already weeping, silent tears trickling down her chin. As we walk to the front entrance, Mom dashes for the tissues, crushing them in her palms before flinging them toward Everett. Crying is my mother’s least favorite activity, followed by goodbyes.

“Good luck in California, Ariel,” she says, hurrying to the back, trays of dumplings folded between her arms.

I crouch behind the counter and pull out three large suitcases. “We’ll text and video-chat all the time,” Ariel promises, “and email.”

“Ooh, email,” Everett gushes, “like we’re old-fashioned and writing letters to each other. I like it.”

“Okay,” I say, “every day?”

“Ariel can’t even answer her messages every day when she’s home.” Everett sniffs, and then, realizing the weight of her words, swallows hard.

But Ariel doesn’t seem to notice. “Hey,” she laughs, “I’ve gotten better.”

“Every week,” I amend.

“Okay,” the girls agree, “every week.”

Everett throws her arms around Ariel’s waist, squishing her small frame.

“Help, can’t breathe!”

Everett is unyielding. “Meet lots of cute guys for us, okay?” “Oh, for sure. I’ll just ditch all my classes for college boys.” “That’s my girl.”

We make our way onto the street, hiding from the thick summer heat under the awning’s shade. Flushing is beginning to stir. Colorful Chinese signs crowd the block. Mr. Zhang slides up the glass protector on his food cart, revealing salted tofu pudding and sweet soy milk. The stench of decades-old steam stacks and stale cigarettes waft through the early-morning air.

Ariel calls a rideshare, and a sleek sedan appears within minutes. She piles her suitcases into the trunk and gives us one last squeeze.

“Eight weeks,” she says, “and then we’ll be together again.”

It seems like a lifetime and no time at all. Everett rests her head in the crook of my neck and we wave and wave until Ariel is just a dot on the horizon.

And then, she’s gone.

Learn more about E.L. Shen’s books on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.