Days of Distraction is written in half-page to page-long blocks ... This mosaic structure, combining tesserae of research with narrative episodes, perfectly reflects the moment. The story is fractured, like our attention, our nation, our relationships; the information looks like the snippets we consume: Facebook posts, tweets, Google results. But for all its formal interplay and textual shifts, the novel is also, somehow, a cohesive, thoroughly absorbing read. It’s a mixed marriage of new forms and old that captures modern life then shapes it into something artistically abiding. The unifying element is point of view: By creating such a smart, thoughtful, funny, observant narrator, and taking us on a familiar arc of leaving home, contending with new surroundings, reconnecting with the past and negotiating a crossroads, Chang achieves the opposite effect of distraction culture ... This is an immersive, emotionally honest novel that thinks through our era’s complexities, histories and divisions; it wanders into the gray areas, and wonders where the path forward might be.
The lack of outward drama in Days of Distraction belies the stormy consciousness of a woman who’s struggling to define her identity as others try to do the job for her ... Chang’s strength is her ability to give a sense of confusion contours: Jing Jing’s observations are pointed, witty, and free of easy resolutions. And Chang’s deadpan style offers up moments of absurd humor ... Ultimately, though, Chang shows the challenge of trying to raise issues about racism that even those closest to her wish to avoid. Struggling to spark a conversation nobody wants to have, she conducts an engrossing one with herself.
In this beautiful, urgent, 'coming-of-adulthood' novel, author Alexandra Chang redefines the concept of distraction ... A story-driven inquiry into issues of race, technology, family, loss, success, and love ... The most exciting aspect of Days of Distraction is the way information is revealed. Chang holds back for a long time until, suddenly—just as in life—everything is exposed.
Since Chang names her main characters after their real life counterparts, it’s tempting to try to figure out what about her story is autobiographical and what is fiction. No matter, the messages are what’s important in this novel about Chinese identity, cross-cultural relationships, and the unconditional love of families.
There are more than enough biographical parallels between the author and her protagonist to wonder whether Days of Distraction falls under the umbrella of autofiction, but it is the essayistic prose and the well-spaced block paragraph signature of online content that gives the novel its contemporary, memoir-like sensibility. Chang’s prose, using first-person point of view, reveals Alexandra’s sharp and critical interiority, but maintains a reporter’s sense of distance, an obligation to factual representation ... If there are any hiccups, it’s that the novel is slightly weighed down by a lengthy and sluggish middle section ... masterfully complicates the many harmful ways in which societal rage is placated daily, no differently in 2013 than in our past or current moment ... It’s no easy feat to present these issues using bountiful evidence within an expansive work of fiction. Chang does this expertly. Her debut is a reminder that the novel can show and tell, convey story and social message, and dare the reader to participate in their own upheaval.
...a thoughtful reflection on gender, relationships and racial and ethnic identity in 21st-century America, as seen through the observant eyes of a young Chinese American woman ... Days of Distraction is less noteworthy for its action or plot twists than it is for Alexandra’s precise, fresh insights into life in a country where people who look like her have ultimately thrived. But as the novel reveals, that eventual acceptance sometimes has a steep price.
...[a] stunning debut ... Chang portrays early adulthood with elegance and an offbeat humor that complements her poignant and deeply significant observations of life as a woman of color. She explores the struggle to be free in an oppressive society with incredible insight and clear, captivating prose that set her apart as a striking new voice in literature.
Chang has won acclaim for her short stories, and, stylistically, her debut novel can be seen as a collection of linked microfictions. The text is composed of brief vignettes and the narrative is discursive, but this does not mean that the story feels choppy or disjointed. Instead, the novel's form encourages the reader to slow down, think about what they’ve just read, and figure out for themselves how the pieces fit together ... uniquely insightful and accessible to anyone who has grappled with these issues themselves. Beautifully crafted and deeply thoughtful.
... [an] incisive debut ... Chang’s humorous, timely observations on race, technology, and relationships lend immediacy to the narrator’s chronicle of self-awareness. This introduces a formidably talented writer.