Saturday, October 27, 2018

A review of American Sweetheart: Still Not Making the Team by Chiufang Hwang M.D.

I notice a lot of people find this blog due to my posts about the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and their hit reality show on CMT, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.  I have also written at least one review of a book written by former "DCCs".  Since I am a sucker for trash, and I love a good true story, I decided to read American Sweetheart: Still Not Making the Team, by Taiwanese Dallas based psychiatrist Chiufang Hwang.  I paid $4.99 to download her book, which was published in November 2016.

Hwang, who by now is in her 50s, has tried out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders multiple times, starting in 1999. She has yet to progress beyond the first audition.  Still, she continues to show up every year for the grueling try outs.  She takes dance classes, in addition to being a wife, a mother of two grown sons, and a psychiatrist who runs a clinic.  Hwang apparently doesn't care that she never makes it beyond the first round of auditions.  She says she loves competition.

American Sweetheart, then, might make for a good book about chasing a dream... even one that, realistically, will never come true.  Except this book isn't just about trying out to become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.  It's also about growing up with immigrant parents.  Hwang is the eldest of three children.  She had a younger brother and a younger sister.  Her sister was afflicted with acute lymphocytic leukemia and was very ill from a young age.  Hwang's father was studying to get his Ph.D. in mathematics, then computer science.  He entered several doctoral programs around the country and, more than once, failed at achieving his dream of becoming a Ph.D.

Hwang's mother is described as needy and extremely demanding.  She gave Chiufang a lot of responsibility from a young age, requiring her to do everything from parenting her siblings to reading and interpreting apartment leases and paying bills.  Hwang's mother wanted her daughter to excel in school, and she did.  However, the mother chose where Hwang would be attending school, what her major would be, and would even show up on campus and force her daughter to eat the same dinner every night in the family car.  Hwang writes that her mother always cooked rice, and it was served at every meal.

Reading about Hwang's family dynamics was a lot more interesting than reading about Hwang's quest to become a DCC.  I think her story is more in her unique family situation than it is her diet, dance, and exercise tips.  I mean... Hwang hasn't yet succeeded in becoming a cheerleader, so I'm not sure why she thinks anyone would follow her advice on how to successfully audition for DCC.  She does include a couple of interviews from former cheerleaders, as well as some information about what it's like to audition, but to me, DCC is not what this book is ultimately about. If anything, it's a side note... and Hwang probably used her affiliation with DCC as a hook to get more readers.  I don't see many reviews on Amazon yet, so people like me are "hooked"... not that I mind, since it wasn't an expensive download.

Hwang is a pretty decent and engaging writer, although I really think her book could have used an editor.  For one thing, in her manuscript, she includes things like news articles and speeches she's given.  They aren't photographs of clippings.  They're basically articles and speeches copied into the text.  I, for one, skipped over most of it, as it seemed a bit like padding.

Hwang is slim and attractive and looks very good, particularly for her age.  She mentions more than once that besides her headshrinker gig, she's also done some modeling and ad work in Texas.  She was even recruited to try out for DCC, although it seems that might have been a gimmick.  In 1999, she was in her 30s, which is still kind of too old for a realistic shot at DCC.  She also mentioned her size a lot.  Hwang is not quite five feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds, although she says 100 pounds on her frame looks overweight.  Although DCC claims that there is no height requirement, it seems to me that someone that tiny might stick out like a sore thumb.

I thought it was interesting to read Hwang's thoughts on negative feedback she's gotten from co-workers and other peers.  It seems that a lot of people don't appreciate her DCC quest.  Some of her colleagues have even shamed her for "debasing herself" and women as a whole by trying out for the DCC.  I could kind of relate, since I get shit from people all the time about things like writing or making music.  A lot of people just want to watch the world burn and crap all over anyone who has ambition, especially for something they don't think is deserved.  I liked that she encourages her readers to go for their dreams, even though she herself admits that thanks to being "hangry", she's been quite unpleasant to people she works with.  She went so far as to dress down one of her employees who asked for a raise.  I know that cheerleaders for the Cowboys are expected to be unfailingly nice to everyone, so Hwang may have some challenges with that requirement if she ever did have a realistic shot at being a cheerleader.  Also, I can't quite picture her calling Kelli Finglass and Judy Trammell "ma'am".

I don't think this is a bad book, per se.  I just think Hwang's focus was kind of off.  Yes, the DCC adds mystique to the book and may get some people to read it who wouldn't otherwise.  However, I think some readers will feel like they've been baited and switched, since this book certainly isn't just about becoming a DCC.  Frankly, I think Hwang has an interesting story that merits a book.  I think she should work with an editor to write a book that is more about her journey and less about her attempts to become something she will likely never be.

I'd say this book might be worth a read for the curious, but do not read it thinking it will only be about the cheerleaders.  I think the cheerleaders are just a minimal part of the story.

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