Margaret Dilloway's The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns
It's easy to think of the rose with symbols as a symbol for Gal herself--someone whose personality is a blend of beautiful and sharp. The novel takes place over the course of about a year, with the major events of the plot stemming from the sudden appearance of Gal's niece Riley at her school, having taken the bus from across the state to live with her. Gal's sister had sent Riley along without bothering to check with Gal first and making arrangements. Riley is a 15-year-old, moody teenager whose childhood was unstable with a mother with substance-abuse problems. Much of the novel traces the ups and downs of Gal's relationship with Riley.
Woven together with this central, developing relationship is Gal's struggle with her health condition. She has been on dialysis for many years after a couple of previous kidney transplants eventually stopped working. She soldiers on and believes that she can continue to function fully as a full-time teacher and a rose-breeding hobbyist, but with the arrival of Riley, that balance she has struck between the demands of her health condition and her activities begin to fall apart.
And the other major narrative line in the novel is Gal's drive to develop a hybrid Hulthemia rose with splotches and fragrance (that fragrance being a particularly desirable and elusive trait for rose breeders). I like novels like this one that weave in a lot of facts about subcultures of hobbyists, these worlds of people intensely engaged in activities that many people don't even know exist. The novel offers excerpts from a fictional rose growers' almanac with tips on what to do with roses each month in Southern California (I think it's fictional, at least, though I believe it's modeled on real books). This technique of using excerpts of nonfictional texts throughout the narrative is something Dilloway also used in her first novel (with the how-to-manual for war brides. Gal takes her roses to a few regional shows and competitions, and there are some interesting takes on the competitiveness of the people at these shows as well as the importance of interpersonal dynamics for these things.
Unlike How to Be an American Housewife, which dealt explicitly with Asian/American experiences, this novel does not focus on Asian American characters. There is one Chinese American model minority student in the novel who plays an important role in the story, albeit never as part of the foreground of the narrative. Certainly, we could think about how the trajectory of Dilloway's two novels mirrors the work of other Asian American writers, perhaps even more significantly for mixed-race Asian American writers (starting off with published works that explicitly mark Asian American identities before moving off to racially unmarked narratives or featuring white characters).
As I mentioned earlier, I found this novel to be quite humorous--both in the protagonist's dry sense of humor and in the unreliable narrative voice that we get from Gal who, though very intelligent and a certainly a survivor, does not always fully understand friendship, kindness, and other aspects of social life.