A bighearted debut novel about an undocumented Filipino son who leaves his dead-end Bay Area life for a chance to start over in a peculiar, freewheeling desert city

Excel spends his days trying to seem like an unremarkable American teenager. When he’s not working at The Pie Who Loved Me (a spy-themed pizza shop) or passing the time with his girlfriend Sab (typically in one of their town’s seventeen cemeteries), he carefully avoids the spotlight.

But Excel knows that his family is far from normal. His mother, Maxima, was once a Filipina B-movie action star who now makes her living scamming men online. The old man they live with is not his grandfather, but Maxima’s lifelong martial arts trainer. And years ago, on Excel’s tenth birthday, Maxima revealed a secret that he must keep forever. “We are tago nang tago,” she told him, “hiding and hiding.” Excel is undocumented—and one accidental slip could uproot his entire life.

Casting aside the paranoia and secrecy of his childhood, Excel takes a leap, joining Sab on a journey south to a ramshackle desert town called Hello City. Populated by drifters, old hippies, and washed-up techies—and existing outside the normal constructs of American society—Hello City offers Excel a chance to forge his own path for the first time. But after so many years of trying to be invisible, who does he want to become? And is it possible to put down roots in a country that has always considered you an outsider?

Thrumming with energy and at once critical and hopeful, The Son of Good Fortune is a luminous story of a mother and son testing the strength of their bond to their country—and to each other.
July 7, 2020  |  304 pages
(Read from Feb 21, 2021 to Feb 27, 2021)
Grade: B–    (switch to numeric scale)
L/E Ratio: 70% Literature, 30% Entertainment
Writing Quality:
Low High
Low High

Low High
Movie Potential:
Low High

Low High
Sequel Potential:
Low High
As an undocumented immigrant in America, Tenorio‘s narrator carries a weight of fear everywhere he goes. That anxiety is embedded in the character’s voice and makes for a powerful story. The different layers of flashbacks all mesh well together, building depth in the mother-son relationship and their shared history. However, the same level of complexity is absent from the romantic arc, which is meant to be the primary plot driver. This leaves the characters’ motivations feeling almost arbitrary.  (+1 vote)