When Princeton professor and author Amy Chua published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in 2011, the resulting media melee seemed to tap into a simmering vat of insecurities about the economic rise of China.
An excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal under the headline Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior triggered a heated debate about the pros and cons of a discipline style that discourages improvisation and creativity in favor of repetition and diligence.
Was the United States doing its children a disservice by not taking cues from the Chinese education system?
Novelist Kim Wong Keltner's new book, Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side, responds with a resounding No, as an impassioned ode to "all the lonely, lost kids who aren't going to get into Harvard or Berkeley", Keltner says.
"Many Asians in the US are facing an identity crisis today, because we've been pigeonholed into stereotypes of success," she says. "Not enough of us are saying, I choose not to fit into this one box that my parents and the world have defined for me. Amy Chua's kids obviously turned out great, but it's only when kids turn out great that we can laugh about it.
"There's this entire group of kids out there who feel lonely and anxious because they're not necessarily going to be successful in that same way, and I want my book to be a message in a bottle to those kids," Keltner adds.
In descriptions of her strained relationship with her own "Tiger Mother", Keltner likens the relief of a post-visit return home to the feeling of having gnawed off her own paw to escape the metal teeth of a spring-loaded trap.
"How many emotional body slams can we take before ending up with permanent brain damage?" she asks.