Banana Girl: A Memoir


ISBN: 978-1-921924-55-2 Format: 234mm x 153mm 256pp Rights: All rights available Release / Publication Date: 01 /11 /2013


Michele Lee describes herself as the ‘fence-sitting’ middle child in a large Hmong-Australian family. Banana Girl is the explosive and poignant memoir of her rites of passage. Sexy, irreverent and nuanced, Lee isn’t afraid to lay herself and her relationships bare. Intimacy in an on-line world, sexual adventures and Gen Y yearnings, turning thirty as an Asian-Australian woman in inner city Melbourne, and the travails of becoming an artist, all capture Lee’s riveting gaze. The result is a book that is erotic, witty and revealing, a gutsy true story of self-acceptance that takes hold and won’t let go.

‘Banana Girl confronts with an unusually bare intimacy. Reading it is like stumbling onto the secret diary of a complex and fascinating young woman whose frank observations of the culture she comes from and the one in which she lives enables a personal understanding of both. The conversational tone mimics the shared intimacies of young women so well there are times you want to walk into Michele’s world and sometimes shake her for the mistakes she’s making, sometimes enjoy with her quietly her tender observations of caged monkeys in back gardens or her half-blinded father struggling with bureaucratic email. A relentlessly readable account of post-colonialism’s grandchildren, the messiness, contradictions and joy of a multicultural life.’ Van Badham, author of Burnt Snow: The Book of the Witch

Michele Lee is an Asian-Australian playwright and author (Hmong specifically). She writes plays about identity, race and otherness. Banana Girl is her first book. She currently lives in Melbourne Australia.

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Lee captures the world of all those striking young creatives that walk Melbourne’s streets, lurk in the bars you wish you could find, shop at Readings, and write the plays you see. It’s not pretentious, however: it’s intimate and conversational, like falling into her friendship group (she’d refer to you as Reader, maybe), or listening to her life from the pocket of herdress after she butt-dialled you. Sometimes she makes you sigh – she is not afraid to show imperfections, even those she’s not aware of – but mostly Lee is just a very good storyteller: about herself, about the open possibilities of life, and the hope that you will always be better than you wanted to be in your youth.

Fiona Hardy, Readings Newsletter November 2013

Michele Lee, an experienced playwright but debut author, is not as well known in writing circles as other successful young memoirists such as Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law, but she ably matches their no-holds-barred approach to narrating the self, most notably their wicked sense of humour.

Emily Laidlaw, Bookseller and Publisher  October  2013

Lee’s sexual frankness is not only brave, it reveals exactly how much of a banana she really is, ‘modern and golden, slipped loose from the rest of the bunch.’ In a way, she is not only a ‘minority of a minority’ because she is Hmong, she is also one in a minority of Asian Australians who are comfortable admitting to having sex and enjoying it. This is perhaps the most delicious irony that exists in Banana Girl: a new Australian who has assimilated into her adopted community at the expense of her own.

Fiona O’Brien, Melbourne Review, October 2013

Michele’s life in Melbourne seems at odds with her family in Canberra: her Hmong refugee parents and married, settled siblings providing a contrast to her colourful sharehouse and quirky friends, without being necessarily in conflict. The author claims the Banana Girl ‘isn’t a migrant daughter story per se’, and indeed, the topic isn’t dwelt on, but neither is the Hmong influence ever entirely absent from the narration. Additionally, her memories of travelling through Laos and visiting extended family there are tinged with fond nostalgia.

Emma Grist, BMAMAG, 29 November 2014

A banana girl, says Michelle Lee, is an Asian girl, “modern and golden, slipped loose from the rest of the bunch”. Her Hmong parents fled Laos in the 1970s after the Laotian Civil War, known as the Secret War. Deeply ambivalent about her Hmong heritage and traditions, Lee decamps from Canberra, where she grew up, to inner Melbourne to reinvent herself as a self-aware, self-deprecating hipster. In this memoir, Lee presents as confident and insouciant, but sees herself as an “emotional retard” when it comes to relationships. “We’re like snakes biting at each other’s arses. We’re all trying to get over someone who’s getting over someone else.” She hooks up with men for casual sex through a sex website and describes herself as a ‘cougar’, while conducting a tetchy dialogue with her 15-year-old self. Comically off-hand, yet driven, Lee is both in the grip of her desires and struggling to master them as she plunders her life to give it shape.

Fiona Capp, The Age /SMH 16 Nov 2013