Canada Reads 2019

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

Lindsay Wong writes about her dysfunctional Asian family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons.
The Woo-Woo is a memoir by Lindsay Wong. (Shimon/Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Woo-Woo is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. Canada Reads 2019 is about finding one book to move you. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019.

The 2019 debates will take place March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan

About The Woo-Woo

In this jaw-dropping, darkly comedic memoir, a young woman comes of age in a dysfunctional Asian family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons when they should really be on anti-psychotic meds.

Lindsay Wong grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic grandmother and a mother who was deeply afraid of the "woo-woo" — Chinese ghosts who come to visit in times of personal turmoil. From a young age, she witnessed the woo-woo's sinister effects; when she was six, Lindsay and her mother avoided the dead people haunting their house by hiding out in a mall food court, and on a camping trip, in an effort to rid her daughter of demons, her mother tried to light Lindsay's foot on fire.

The eccentricities take a dark turn, however, when her aunt, suffering from a psychotic breakdown, holds the city hostage for eight hours when she threatens to jump off a bridge. And when Lindsay starts to experience symptoms of the woo-woo herself, she wonders whether she will suffer the same fate as her family.

 Wong navigates treacherous emotional waters with such masterful literary skill we are barely aware of the moment our laughter turns to tears.- 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

At once a witty and touching memoir about the Asian immigrant experience and a harrowing and honest depiction of the vagaries of mental illness, The Woo-Woo is a gut-wrenching and beguiling manual for surviving family and oneself. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Woo-Woo was a finalist for the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Lindsay Wong on writing about mental health in her memoir

"I think it's an important story because of the stigma and shame of mental illness. One out of five Canadians have mental illness or know someone who has mental illness. I hope everyone can relate to this idea that mental illness is not shameful or taboo or a stigma, especially Chinese Canadians. We have a private culture where we don't share our secrets and we don't trust outsiders, necessarily. I'm hoping that people will be able to talk openly about illness and things that are affecting them.

I hope everyone can relate to this idea that mental illness is not shameful or taboo or a stigma, especially Chinese Canadians.- Lindsay Wong


"I know I have a lot of Chinese Canadian friends who are my age and they are terrified of telling their parents that they're seeing a therapist or they're depressed because of the shame and the ridicule that would come with it. I've always been a very honest person in that sense. When I'm writing, I feel like nothing is sacred."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

From the book

I was twenty-two years old and had been on my own in New York City for four months, a good 2,000 miles away from my crazy Chinese family, who were still exorcising fake demons — the Woo-Woo — they called them, from anyone whose opinion they flagrantly disliked. That had included me, and it looked like the Woo-Woo had caught me anyway.

This was normal in our family, who believed that mental illness, or any psychological disturbance, was caused by demonic possession. The Woo-Woo ghosts were sometimes responsible for cancers, unexplainable viruses, and various skin afflictions like mild psoriasis.

Growing up, my superstitious mother always believed that going to the bathroom alone could lead to possession, whereas my father said any emotional weakness would bring on symptoms not unlike those dramatically thwarted in The Exorcist. "Lindsay, you cry and your eyeball will fall off," he would explain seriously, while clutching his head like he was having a moderate seizure. "Ghosts use any opportunity to possess you, okay? Don't be weak, or it's game over for you."


From The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong ©2018. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Interviews with Lindsay Wong

Writer Linsday Wong talks to CBC Radio's The Early Edition about her darkly comic memoir. 7:24