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Stay True

A Memoir (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Author Hua Hsu
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Best Seller
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence Nominee
A New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year 

Stay True is a gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art.

In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ’zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.

But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.

Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he’s been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, TIME, The Atlantic, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, NPR, The Boston Globe, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Millions, BookPage, Lit Hub, Reader's Digest, Vulture, Goop

“An elegant and poignant coming of age account that considers intense, youthful friendships but also random violence that can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives.” —2023 Pulitzer Prize Committee

“[Hsu has] crafted a transformative addition to the Asian American canon and to the critical conception of what a memoir is capable of. . . . For all the deep labor of reflection in Hsu’s book, his memoir is about the harder work of moving forward, missing pieces in hand.” —Keetje Kuipers, National Book Critics Circle

“Quietly wrenching. . . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion—all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.” —The New York Times

“[Hsu] is that rare thing: a chronicler and critic who [engages] fully, emotionally as well as intellectually, with every subject. . . . In Stay True Hsu makes us see how his and Ken’s and their friends’ stories are tossed on the sea of history, how identity takes shape from a thousand factors, how personalities flow into one another, how chance and destiny can be hard to tell apart.” —Lucy Sante, The New York Review of Books

“’I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room

“Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer’s life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend’s violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best.” —Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

“An evolutionary step for Asian American literature.” New York Magazine
“In this elegant, open-hearted elegy for his fallen friend, Hsu does the labor of love, of taking time to recall and make record of the quotidian detail of another man's life. In this way, he reveals for us all how aesthetics are products of both relationships and of terrible loss. The river of this memoir is quiet and deep, unassuming, it enters the reader and changes us with its capacity for connection.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

“Hua Hsu’s Stay True is a rich, intelligent, and beautifully crafted portrait of just about everything that matters in life. Here is friendship, art, and family cast against a distinctly American backdrop of migration in language so precise and subtle that you might not even notice how it breaks and mends your heart.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names

“In crafting Stay True, Hua Hsu has opted to trust the consequential size of memories shared with Ken over what we readers feel we are owed. The result is one of the finest memoirs I've ever read.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity . . . a map to his soul’s becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.” —Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn

“Deep feelings coursed through me as I read Hua Hsu’s story: Grief, nostalgia, pity, terror, mercy. . . . Stay True is a crucial, sense-making, healing book.” —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior

“I was softly heartbroken by Stay True, which is an elegy not just for a friend but for so much else that feels lost and irreplaceable—a time of tender idleness and unmediated presence, a way that it was once possible to be young. The things that make Hua Hsu’s writing so singular—his searching grace, his rigorous sensitivity, his ability to make a living world out of the seemingly liminal—crystallize in this once-in-a-lifetime book.” —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror

“In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu’s] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.” —Booklist *starred review*

“In his moving memoir Stay True . . . the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu portrays, and in one section addresses, a companion from his youth who has stayed with him in absentia.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s

“[A] luminous and tender-hearted story. . . . Stay True is a nuanced and beautiful evocation of young adulthood in all its sloppy, exuberant glory.” —The Wall Street Journal

“[Hsu writes] with devastating emotional precision, questioning the possibility of meaning in tragedy and the value of the stories we tell while attempting to find it. [Stay True] is a thoughtful, affecting book. . . . For all the soul-searching, therapeutic work and years of rumination imprinted on Stay True, it’s the ache of a friendship lost but honored that will linger for readers. Though Hsu claims, self-deprecatingly, that the term ‘good friend . . . only occasionally applies to me,’ the lasting effect of Stay True is that of an extraordinary, devotional act of friendship.” The Washington Post

“A beautiful memoir [that] goes deep into the heart of friendships.” —The Financial Times

“Not since Ann Patchett wrote about her friend Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty has there been such an achingly tender book about a platonic friendship.” —The Los Angeles Times

“[Stay True] is funny and wise, an elegiac work of self-forgiveness. What a gift it is, Hsu concludes, to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, while you were busy becoming yourself.” —The Atlantic

“This fleet-footed memoir tracks a complicated and bittersweet portrait of Asian-American life with great verve and heart. . . . Hsu pays poignant tribute to friendship and grief.” —The Boston Globe

Stay True is as affecting as a great pop song.” —Jenn Pelly, Pitchfork

“Easily one of the most inventive memoirs to come out in years, Stay True is both deeply personal while also leaving room for its readers to reflect on their own life stories and the nostalgia we all carry with us. . . . Hsu uses his keen memory and command of cultural touchpoints to craft something indelible here—a portrait of two unlikely friends that might very well epitomize a generation.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show

“Hua Hsu’s astonishing new memoir . . . explores the faultiness of memory and how grief can reorient a friend group. But more singularly, Stay True is about the beautiful, unpredictable alchemy of how friendship—particularly male friendship—forms in the first place.” —GQ
 
“I’ve never read so perfect a description of collegiate friendship as the scenes in Stay True in which Hsu recalls the long days and nights spent with his friends. . . . [Stay True] is about grief [but also] it is an exploration of what friendship means, and how it can mean different things from relationship to relationship.” —Slate

“Easily one of the best nonfiction books about friendship ever, right up there with Patti Smith’s Just Kids.” —The Atlantic, “Six Memoirs That Go Beyond Memories”
 
“[Stay True] elevates the entire [memoir] genre with a kind of athletic ease. . . . I’m always obsessed with how tightly engineered Hsu's writing is—as elegant and seamless as the rivets of a submarine—and it’s nothing short of delightful to see his prose deployed in such a personal investigation on the pains of being pure at heart.” —Vanity Fair

“A moving portrait of friends, death, doubt, and everything in between. . . . Hsu writes with tenderness but scorching precision. . . . Genuinely one of the most moving portraits of friendship to have come out in recent years.” —The Nation

“A coming-of-age story, perhaps unlike any other I’ve come across from an Asian American writer. . . . Undeniably fun, a testament to the feverish joy only young people can find in shooting the shit. While it hits at several themes—the Asian American experience, trauma, and the funny mechanics of memory—Stay True is perfumed with a distinct promise throughout, the glow that comes with knowing that you’ve met your tribe.” —Mother Jones

“New Yorker
staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . . . Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.” —Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“Perhaps one of the best-ever books about friendship. . . . Tenderhearted.” —Reader’s Digest

“Hsu’s . . . posture of knowingness and absolute innocence—shattered when his friend is killed—make for a poignant tale of love and loss.” —People

“Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” —Literary Hub, “Our 38 Favorite Books of 2022”

“Lovely, low-key. . . . A moving portrait of a persona undone by tragedy.” —Vogue.com, “The Best Books To Read This Fall”

“Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” –Lit Hub

“Affecting. . . . Sincere, funny, wistful—the phrase ‘stay true’ reflects the tone of the book and also its goal: to honestly remember a lost friend.” —The A.V. Club

“At its core, Stay True is a memoir of a friendship—of any friendship: what we learn from others, what we give in exchange, and how it gives shape to the story we tell ourselves of ourselves.” —Electric Lit

“[A] gentle, tragic memoir. . . . So many of Hsu’s descriptions are made poignant by their photographic quality.” —Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

“Gut-wrenching and beautifully written, Stay True is an unforgettable story about grief, identity, and the indelible mark a friendship can leave on our lives.” —Real Simple

“The New Yorker staff writer has achieved near rock-star status with his ’90s coming-of-age memoir. . . . [A] gorgeous, gut-wrenching story of a young friendship that ended tragically.” —The Hollywood Reporter
© Devlin Claro
HUA HSU is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of Literature at Bard College. Hsu serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. He was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his family. View titles by Hua Hsu
Back then, there was no such thing as spending too much time in the car. We would have driven anywhere so long as we were together.

I always offered my Volvo. First, it seemed like the cool, generous thing to do. Second, it ensured that everyone had to listen to my music. Nobody could cook, yet we were always piling into my station wagon for aspirational trips to the grocery store on College Avenue, the one that took about six songs to get to. We crossed the Bay Bridge simply to get ice cream, justifying a whole new mixtape. There was a twenty-four-hour Kmart down 880 that we discovered one night on the way back from giving someone a lift to the airport—the ultimate gesture of friendship. A half-hour drive just to buy notepads or underwear in the dead of night, and it was absolutely worth it. Occasionally, a stray, scratchy pop tune would catch someone’s attention. What’s this? I’d heard these songs hundreds of times before. But to listen to them with other people: it was what I’d been waiting for.

Passengers had different personalities. Some called shotgun with a neurotic intensity, as though their entire sense of self relied on sitting up front. Sammi flicked her lighter all the time, until one afternoon when the glove compartment caught on fire. Paraag always ejected my tapes and insisted on listening to the radio. Anthony, forever staring out the window. You might come no closer to touching another person than in a cramped backseat, sharing a seat belt meant for one.

I had taken my parents’ fear of blind spots to heart, and my head constantly bounded from side to side, checking the various mirrors, noting cars in neighboring lanes, in between sneaking glances at my friends to see if anyone else noticed that Pavement was far superior to Pearl Jam. I was responsible for everyone’s safety, and for their enrichment, too.

I have a photo of Ken and Suzy sitting shoulder to shoulder in the back just as we’re about to embark on a short road trip. They’re chewing gum, smiling. I remember nothing about the trip except the excitement of leaving for someplace else. Finals were over, and before we went our separate ways for summer, a bunch of us spent the night at a house a few hours away from Berkeley. The fun, minor danger of driving in a caravan, as though on a secret mission, weaving through traffic, carefully looking in the rearview to see that everyone else was still behind you. Swerving from lane to lane or tailgating when we were the only cars on the road. I probably spent more time making the mixtape than it took to drive to the house and back. We wouldn’t even be gone for twenty-four hours. But there was the novelty of sleeping bags, no homework, waking up in the morning somewhere unfamiliar and new, and that was enough.

In general, I wasn’t used to seeing Ken in the backseat. We spent a lot of nights driving around Berkeley, his leg propped up on the passenger side door, his eyes scanning the horizon for undiscovered coffee shops, some out-of-the-way dive bar that would become our haunt once we turned twenty-one. He was always overdressed—a collared shirt, a Polo jacket, things I would never wear—but maybe it was just that he was ready for adventure. More often than not, a song’s drive to 7-Eleven for cigarettes.

At that age, time moves slow. You’re eager for something to happen, passing time in parking lots, hands deep in your pockets, trying to figure out where to go next. Life happened elsewhere, it was simply a matter of finding a map that led there. Or maybe, at that age, time moves fast; you’re so desperate for action that you forget to remember things as they happen. A day felt like forever, a year was a geological era. The leap from sophomore to junior year of college suggested unprecedented new heights of poise and maturity. Back then, your emotions were always either very high or very low, unless you were bored, and nobody in human history had ever been this bored before. We laughed so hard we thought we’d die. We drank so much we learned there was a thing called alcohol poisoning. I always feared I had alcohol poisoning. We stayed up so late, possessed by delirium, that we came up with a theory of everything, only we forgot to write it down. We cycled through legendary infatuations sure to devastate us for the rest of our lives.

For a while, you were convinced that you would one day write the saddest story ever.

I remember listening to the Fugees. I remember the chill of the air. I remember the morning after, when everyone emerged from their own corner of the house, and Ken stepped out onto the deck, holding a mug of coffee. How does he know how to make coffee? I thought to myself. I should know how to do that, too. I have a photo of him still as he looks out toward the morning, clouds reflecting in his glasses. He wore glasses only on occasion, in a manner that made him seem serious, grown-up—never a nerd.

After breakfast—what could we have possibly eaten?—we ventured out to the white sand beach, though the weather was no good. I wore a thrift polka-dot button-up with a frayed collar, a brown cardigan, and a striped yellow-and-black beanie. Only my taupe Vans had been manufactured in our lifetime. There’s a photo where I’m squatting down like a catcher, pensively looking for seashells. Ken stands behind, leaning over me and waving gaily to the camera. He wears a flannel-lined navy blue jacket, tastefully baggy jeans, and brown boots. In another picture, he’s perched coolly on a tall rock. “Take one of me and Huascene,” he asks Anthony. He’s affecting a debonair look, while I’m leaning next to him with a goofy smile.

Back then, years passed when you wouldn’t pose for a picture. You wouldn’t think to take a picture at all. Cameras felt intrusive to everyday life. It was weird to walk around with a camera, unless you worked for the school paper, which made picture taking seem a little less creepy. Maybe if you had a camera, you used it during those last few days of school, at parties or as people were packing up, the logic of last-minute cramming applied to the documentation of memories. If someone tried to take your picture, even if it was meant to be silly or spontaneous, you still fussed and awkwardly posed, because there was a finality to it, one or two snaps at most, any more would seem obsessive. A moment would pass, unremarked upon, until months later, when you developed photos you had taken at a concert or birthday party, a proper event worth chronicling, and you discovered some images of friends getting ready to go out, or else a slice-of-life candid intended to burn through the end of the roll. You’d forgotten about this. Later, when photography became ubiquitous, pictures were evidence that you existed at all, day in and day out. They registered a pattern. Looking back, you began to doubt the sequence of events. If, in the absence of proof, anything had happened at all.

When my father moved to Taiwan, my family bought a fax machine. In theory, this was so he could help me with my math homework. I was starting high school, where everything, from what instrument I played to the well roundedness of my transcript, suddenly seemed consequential. A few years earlier, in seventh grade, I tested just well enough to skip two years of math, and I was now paying for it. I had peaked too early. In fact, I was very bad at math. Like many immigrants who prized education, my parents retained faith in the mastery of technical fields, like the sciences, where answers weren’t left to interpretation. You couldn’t discriminate against the right answer. But I preferred to spend my time interpreting things.

Faxing was cheaper than long-distance calling, and far less pressure. There were no halting, wasteful silences. You simply dialed the recipient and fed a sheet of paper through the machine, and a facsimile printed out on the other side of the world. The time difference between Cupertino and Hsinchu was such that I could fax my father a question in the evening and expect an answer by the time I woke up. My homework requests were always marked urgent.

He carefully explained the principles of geometry in the margins, apologizing if anything was rushed or unclear, as he was very busy establishing himself at his new job. I skimmed the explanations and copied down the equations and proofs. Every now and then, I rewarded his quick, careful attention by interspersing the next set of math questions with a digest of American news: I told him about Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive, I narrated the events that led up to the Los Angeles riots, I kept him up to date on the fate of the Giants. I told him about cross-country practice, made honest commitments to work harder at school. I listed the new songs I liked, and he would seek them out in Taipei’s cassette stalls, and tell me which ones he liked, too:

I like the November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. The Metallica is also great. I couldn’t enjoy the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. The old songs reinterpreted by Mariah Carey (I’ll Be There) and Michael Bolton (To Love Somebody) are marvelous. The MTV’s “unplug” is a great idea!

As a teenager, I ultimately had better things to do than fax with my dad. He seized upon anything I mentioned and barraged me with questions. I described one of my classes as boring, and he interrogated my use of the term, observing “lots of ‘challenges’ are emotional ‘boring’ but reasonable ‘useful.’” I mentioned that we were covering the 1960s in history class, and he asked, “You are convinced that Oswald alone killed JFK?”

He always asked me what I thought about things. Maybe it was his attempt to prolong our back-and-forth. He brought up sports, something I didn’t think interested him at all. We were like two guys trading small talk at a hardware store.

Redskin is too much for Bill!?

How’s the Nicks? [Knicks]

It’s Jordan vs. Buckley! [Barkley]

This World Series was spectacular.

Whenever there was a weeklong break from school, my mom and I flew to Taiwan to visit him. Sometimes, I tried to seem consumed by schoolwork so that maybe it made more sense for him to visit us in the Bay Area rather than us going all the way there. This never worked. We spent summers and winters there; weeks would pass when the only people I spoke to were my parents and their middle-aged friends.

I never wanted to go to Taiwan. I couldn’t understand why my parents wanted to go back to a place they had chosen to leave.

My father left Taiwan for the United States in 1965, when he was twenty-one, and he’d be nearly twice as old before he set foot there again. In those days, you left if you were able, especially if you were a promising student. A dozen other physics majors graduated alongside him from Tunghai University, and ten of them ended up pursuing careers abroad. My father flew from Taipei to Tokyo to Seattle to Boston. He scanned the crowd for the friend who’d come all the way from Providence to pick him up at the airport and drop him off in Amherst.

But his friend didn’t know how to drive, so he, in turn, promised to buy lunch for another guy, a man my dad didn’t know, in exchange for a ride to the Boston airport, then Amherst, and finally back to Providence. The two young men greeted my father at the gate, traded backslaps, and rushed him to the car, where they stowed the sum total of his worldly possessions—textbooks and sweaters, mostly—in the trunk. Then they set off for Boston’s Chinatown, a portal back to a world they had left behind. Camaraderie and goodwill were fine enough reasons to drive hours to fetch someone from the airport; just as important was the airport’s proximity to food you couldn’t get in small, northeastern college towns.

In the years that followed, a willing maroon far from home, my father acquired various characteristics that might have marked him as an American. He lived in New York, witnessed and participated in student protests, and, according to photographic evidence, once sported long hair and vaguely fashionable pants. He arrived as a devotee of classical music, but within a few years his favorite song was the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” He subscribed very briefly to The New Yorker, before realizing it wasn’t meant for newcomers like him and requesting a refund. He discovered the charms of pizza and rum raisin ice cream. Whenever a new grad student was set to arrive from Taiwan, he and his friends piled into the nearest available car to pick them up. It was a ritual, and it was a type of freedom—on the road and possibly eating well—that was not to be passed up.

If Americans at the time knew anything about Taiwan, it was as an obscure island in the vicinity of China and Japan, where cheap plastic things were manufactured for export. When my mother was a child, her father set up a chalkboard in the family’s kitchen where he would write a new word in English each day. World War II had interrupted my grandfather’s medical studies, so he became a civil servant. He wanted slightly more for his children. My grandparents had their children choose American names, like Henry or Carol. The children picked up the basics of English, this bizarre, new language, which they might use to speak a new future into being. They learned about the rest of the English-speaking world through a subscription to Life magazine, where my mom first discovered the existence of something in America called Chinatown.

When she arrived in the United States in 1971 (Taipei–Tokyo–San Francisco), the family who picked her up had the decency to wait a day, so she could recover from the long journey, before taking her to eat Chinese food. She was on her way to study public health at Michigan State. Soon after she got to East Lansing, signed a lease, enrolled in classes, and bought a stack of nonrefundable textbooks, she received a message from her father. It turned out that as she was making her way to Michigan, a letter had reached the family home in Taipei informing her that she’d been accepted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her top choice. So, my mother recovered whatever tuition she could from Michigan State and quickly departed for Illinois.
  • WINNER | 2023
    Pulitzer Prize
  • WINNER | 2022
    The National Book Critics Circle Award - Autobiography
  • LONGLIST | 2023
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
WINNER OF THE 2023 PULITZER PRIZE IN MEMOIR NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR • ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE NOMINEE • WINNER OF THE CHINESE AMERICAN LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION'S BEST BOOK AWARD FOR ADULT NONFICTION

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, TIME, The Atlantic, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, NPR, The Boston Globe, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Millions, BookPage, Lit Hub, Reader's Digest, Vulture, Goop

“An elegant and poignant coming of age account that considers intense, youthful friendships but also random violence that can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives.” —2023 Pulitzer Prize Committee

“Quietly wrenching. . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion — all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.” The New York Times

“[Hsu] is that rare thing: a chronicler and critic who [engages] fully, emotionally as well as intellectually, with every subject. . . In Stay True Hsu makes us see how his and Ken’s and their friends’ stories are tossed on the sea of history, how identity takes shape from a thousand factors, how personalities flow into one another, how chance and destiny can be hard to tell apart.” —Lucy Sante, The New York Review of Books

“An evolutionary step for Asian American literature.”New York Magazine

“[A] luminous and tender-hearted story. . . Stay True is a nuanced and beautiful evocation of young adulthood in all its sloppy, exuberant glory.”The Wall Street Journal

“[Hsu writes] with devastating emotional precision, questioning the possibility of meaning in tragedy and the value of the stories we tell while attempting to find it. [Stay True] is a thoughtful, affecting book. . . For all the soul-searching, therapeutic work and years of rumination imprinted on Stay True, it’s the ache of a friendship lost but honored that will linger for readers. Though Hsu claims, self-deprecatingly, that the term ‘good friend … only occasionally applies to me,’ the lasting effect of Stay True is that of an extraordinary, devotional act of friendship.” The Washington Post

“A beautiful memoir [that] goes deep into the heart of friendships.” —The Financial Times

“Not since Ann Patchett wrote about her friend Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty has there been such an achingly tender book about a platonic friendship.” —The Los Angeles Times

"[Stay True] is funny and wise, an elegiac work of self-forgiveness. What a gift it is, Hsu concludes, to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, while you were busy becoming yourself." —The Atlantic

"This fleet-footed memoir tracks a complicated and bittersweet portrait of Asian-American life with great verve and heart. . . Hsu pays poignant tribute to friendship and grief." —The Boston Globe

Stay True is as affecting as a great pop song.” —Jenn Pelly, Pitchfork

“Easily one of the most inventive memoirs to come out in years, Stay True is both deeply personal while also leaving room for its readers to reflect on their own life stories and the nostalgia we all carry with us. . . Hsu uses his keen memory and command of cultural touchpoints to craft something indelible here—a portrait of two unlikely friends that might very well epitomize a generation.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show

“[Hsu has] crafted a transformative addition to the Asian American canon and to the critical conception of what a memoir is capable of. . . For all the deep labor of reflection in Hsu’s book, his memoir is about the harder work of moving forward, missing pieces in hand.” —Keetje Kuipers, National Book Critics Circle

“Hua Hsu's astonishing new memoir. . .explores the faultiness of memory and how grief can reorient a friend group. But more singularly, Stay True is about the beautiful, unpredictable alchemy of how friendship—particularly male friendship—forms in the first place.” —GQ
 
“I’ve never read so perfect a description of collegiate friendship as the scenes in Stay True in which Hsu recalls the long days and nights spent with his friends. . . [Stay True] is about grief [but also] it is an exploration of what friendship means, and how it can mean different things from relationship to relationship.” —Slate

"Easily one of the best nonfiction books about friendship ever, right up there with Patti Smith’s Just Kids.” —The Atlantic, "Six Memoirs That Go Beyond Memories"
 
“[Stay True] elevates the entire [memoir] genre with a kind of athletic ease. . . I'm always obsessed with how tightly engineered Hsu's writing is—as elegant and seamless as the rivets of a submarine—and it’s nothing short of delightful to see his prose deployed in such a personal investigation on the pains of being pure at heart.” —Vanity Fair

“Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity. . .a map to his soul’s becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.” —Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn

“Deep feelings coursed through me as I read Hua Hsu's story: Grief, nostalgia, pity, terror, mercy…Stay True is a crucial, sense-making, healing book.” —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior

“At once a coming-of-age memoir, a devastating elegy for a departed friend, and a mixtape of all the music and other shards of culture and experience that coalesce into an identity, Stay True is wildly original. Hua Hsu writes with such grace and wry humor about so many things: friendship and loss, being young, the joys of hanging out, the pleasures and comforts of inconsequential passions. A glorious, unforgettable book.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain

“I was softly heartbroken by Stay True, which is an elegy not just for a friend but for so much else that feels lost and irreplaceable—a time of tender idleness and unmediated presence, a way that it was once possible to be young. The things that make Hua Hsu’s writing so singular—his searching grace, his rigorous sensitivity, his ability to make a living world out of the seemingly liminal—crystallize in this once-in-a-lifetime book.” —Jia Tolentino, New York Times bestselling author of Trick Mirror

“'I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room

“A moving portrait of friends, death, doubt, and everything in between. . . Hsu writes with tenderness but scorching precision. . . Genuinely one of the most moving portraits of friendship to have come out in recent years.” The Nation

“A coming-of-age story, perhaps unlike any other I’ve come across from an Asian American writer. . . Undeniably fun, a testament to the feverish joy only young people can find in shooting the shit. While it hits at several themes—the Asian American experience, trauma, and the funny mechanics of memory—Stay True is perfumed with a distinct promise throughout, the glow that comes with knowing that you’ve met your tribe.” —Mother Jones

“New Yorker
staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . .Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.” Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.” Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“Perhaps one of the best-ever books about friendship. . . Tenderhearted.” Reader's Digest

“Hsu’s. . .posture of knowingness and absolute innocence—shattered when his friend is killed—make for a poignant tale of love and loss.” People

Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer’s life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend’s violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best.” —Ocean Vuong, New York Times bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.”  Literary Hub, "Our 38 Favorite Books of 2022"

“In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu’s] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.” Booklist *starred review*

“In his moving memoir Stay True. . .the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu portrays, and in one section addresses, a companion from his youth who has stayed with him in absentia.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s

“Lovely, low-key. . . A moving portrait of a persona undone by tragedy.” —Vogue.com, "The Best Books To Read This Fall"

Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” –Lit Hub

“Affecting. . . Sincere, funny, wistful—the phrase ‘stay true’ reflects the tone of the book and also its goal: to honestly remember a lost friend.” The A.V. Club

“At its core, Stay True is a memoir of a friendship—of any friendship: what we learn from others, what we give in exchange, and how it gives shape to the story we tell ourselves of ourselves.” Electric Lit

“[A] gentle, tragic memoir. . . So many of Hsu’s descriptions are made poignant by their photographic quality.” Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

“Gut-wrenching and beautifully written, Stay True is an unforgettable story about grief, identity, and the indelible mark a friendship can leave on our lives.” Real Simple

“The New Yorker staff writer has achieved near rock-star status with his ’90s coming-of-age memoir. . . [A] gorgeous, gut-wrenching story of a young friendship that ended tragically.” The Hollywood Reporter

“In this elegant, open-hearted elegy for his fallen friend, Hsu does the labor of love, of taking time to recall and make record of the quotidian detail of another man's life. In this way, he reveals for us all how aesthetics are products of both relationships and of terrible loss. The river of this memoir is quiet and deep, unassuming, it enters the reader and changes us with its capacity for connection.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

“Hua Hsu’s Stay True is a rich, intelligent, and beautifully crafted portrait of just about everything that matters in life. Here is friendship, art, and family cast against a distinctly American backdrop of migration in language so precise and subtle that you might not even notice how it breaks and mends your heart.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names

“In crafting Stay True, Hua Hsu has opted to trust the consequential size of memories shared with Ken over what we readers feel we are owed. The result is one of the finest memoirs I've ever read.” —Kiese Laymon, New York Times bestselling author of Heavy

About

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence Nominee
A New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year 

Stay True is a gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art.

In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ’zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.

But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.

Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he’s been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, TIME, The Atlantic, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, NPR, The Boston Globe, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Millions, BookPage, Lit Hub, Reader's Digest, Vulture, Goop

“An elegant and poignant coming of age account that considers intense, youthful friendships but also random violence that can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives.” —2023 Pulitzer Prize Committee

“[Hsu has] crafted a transformative addition to the Asian American canon and to the critical conception of what a memoir is capable of. . . . For all the deep labor of reflection in Hsu’s book, his memoir is about the harder work of moving forward, missing pieces in hand.” —Keetje Kuipers, National Book Critics Circle

“Quietly wrenching. . . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion—all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.” —The New York Times

“[Hsu] is that rare thing: a chronicler and critic who [engages] fully, emotionally as well as intellectually, with every subject. . . . In Stay True Hsu makes us see how his and Ken’s and their friends’ stories are tossed on the sea of history, how identity takes shape from a thousand factors, how personalities flow into one another, how chance and destiny can be hard to tell apart.” —Lucy Sante, The New York Review of Books

“’I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room

“Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer’s life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend’s violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best.” —Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

“An evolutionary step for Asian American literature.” New York Magazine
“In this elegant, open-hearted elegy for his fallen friend, Hsu does the labor of love, of taking time to recall and make record of the quotidian detail of another man's life. In this way, he reveals for us all how aesthetics are products of both relationships and of terrible loss. The river of this memoir is quiet and deep, unassuming, it enters the reader and changes us with its capacity for connection.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

“Hua Hsu’s Stay True is a rich, intelligent, and beautifully crafted portrait of just about everything that matters in life. Here is friendship, art, and family cast against a distinctly American backdrop of migration in language so precise and subtle that you might not even notice how it breaks and mends your heart.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names

“In crafting Stay True, Hua Hsu has opted to trust the consequential size of memories shared with Ken over what we readers feel we are owed. The result is one of the finest memoirs I've ever read.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity . . . a map to his soul’s becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.” —Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn

“Deep feelings coursed through me as I read Hua Hsu’s story: Grief, nostalgia, pity, terror, mercy. . . . Stay True is a crucial, sense-making, healing book.” —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior

“I was softly heartbroken by Stay True, which is an elegy not just for a friend but for so much else that feels lost and irreplaceable—a time of tender idleness and unmediated presence, a way that it was once possible to be young. The things that make Hua Hsu’s writing so singular—his searching grace, his rigorous sensitivity, his ability to make a living world out of the seemingly liminal—crystallize in this once-in-a-lifetime book.” —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror

“In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu’s] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.” —Booklist *starred review*

“In his moving memoir Stay True . . . the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu portrays, and in one section addresses, a companion from his youth who has stayed with him in absentia.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s

“[A] luminous and tender-hearted story. . . . Stay True is a nuanced and beautiful evocation of young adulthood in all its sloppy, exuberant glory.” —The Wall Street Journal

“[Hsu writes] with devastating emotional precision, questioning the possibility of meaning in tragedy and the value of the stories we tell while attempting to find it. [Stay True] is a thoughtful, affecting book. . . . For all the soul-searching, therapeutic work and years of rumination imprinted on Stay True, it’s the ache of a friendship lost but honored that will linger for readers. Though Hsu claims, self-deprecatingly, that the term ‘good friend . . . only occasionally applies to me,’ the lasting effect of Stay True is that of an extraordinary, devotional act of friendship.” The Washington Post

“A beautiful memoir [that] goes deep into the heart of friendships.” —The Financial Times

“Not since Ann Patchett wrote about her friend Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty has there been such an achingly tender book about a platonic friendship.” —The Los Angeles Times

“[Stay True] is funny and wise, an elegiac work of self-forgiveness. What a gift it is, Hsu concludes, to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, while you were busy becoming yourself.” —The Atlantic

“This fleet-footed memoir tracks a complicated and bittersweet portrait of Asian-American life with great verve and heart. . . . Hsu pays poignant tribute to friendship and grief.” —The Boston Globe

Stay True is as affecting as a great pop song.” —Jenn Pelly, Pitchfork

“Easily one of the most inventive memoirs to come out in years, Stay True is both deeply personal while also leaving room for its readers to reflect on their own life stories and the nostalgia we all carry with us. . . . Hsu uses his keen memory and command of cultural touchpoints to craft something indelible here—a portrait of two unlikely friends that might very well epitomize a generation.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show

“Hua Hsu’s astonishing new memoir . . . explores the faultiness of memory and how grief can reorient a friend group. But more singularly, Stay True is about the beautiful, unpredictable alchemy of how friendship—particularly male friendship—forms in the first place.” —GQ
 
“I’ve never read so perfect a description of collegiate friendship as the scenes in Stay True in which Hsu recalls the long days and nights spent with his friends. . . . [Stay True] is about grief [but also] it is an exploration of what friendship means, and how it can mean different things from relationship to relationship.” —Slate

“Easily one of the best nonfiction books about friendship ever, right up there with Patti Smith’s Just Kids.” —The Atlantic, “Six Memoirs That Go Beyond Memories”
 
“[Stay True] elevates the entire [memoir] genre with a kind of athletic ease. . . . I’m always obsessed with how tightly engineered Hsu's writing is—as elegant and seamless as the rivets of a submarine—and it’s nothing short of delightful to see his prose deployed in such a personal investigation on the pains of being pure at heart.” —Vanity Fair

“A moving portrait of friends, death, doubt, and everything in between. . . . Hsu writes with tenderness but scorching precision. . . . Genuinely one of the most moving portraits of friendship to have come out in recent years.” —The Nation

“A coming-of-age story, perhaps unlike any other I’ve come across from an Asian American writer. . . . Undeniably fun, a testament to the feverish joy only young people can find in shooting the shit. While it hits at several themes—the Asian American experience, trauma, and the funny mechanics of memory—Stay True is perfumed with a distinct promise throughout, the glow that comes with knowing that you’ve met your tribe.” —Mother Jones

“New Yorker
staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . . . Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.” —Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“Perhaps one of the best-ever books about friendship. . . . Tenderhearted.” —Reader’s Digest

“Hsu’s . . . posture of knowingness and absolute innocence—shattered when his friend is killed—make for a poignant tale of love and loss.” —People

“Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” —Literary Hub, “Our 38 Favorite Books of 2022”

“Lovely, low-key. . . . A moving portrait of a persona undone by tragedy.” —Vogue.com, “The Best Books To Read This Fall”

“Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” –Lit Hub

“Affecting. . . . Sincere, funny, wistful—the phrase ‘stay true’ reflects the tone of the book and also its goal: to honestly remember a lost friend.” —The A.V. Club

“At its core, Stay True is a memoir of a friendship—of any friendship: what we learn from others, what we give in exchange, and how it gives shape to the story we tell ourselves of ourselves.” —Electric Lit

“[A] gentle, tragic memoir. . . . So many of Hsu’s descriptions are made poignant by their photographic quality.” —Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

“Gut-wrenching and beautifully written, Stay True is an unforgettable story about grief, identity, and the indelible mark a friendship can leave on our lives.” —Real Simple

“The New Yorker staff writer has achieved near rock-star status with his ’90s coming-of-age memoir. . . . [A] gorgeous, gut-wrenching story of a young friendship that ended tragically.” —The Hollywood Reporter

Author

© Devlin Claro
HUA HSU is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of Literature at Bard College. Hsu serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. He was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his family. View titles by Hua Hsu

Excerpt

Back then, there was no such thing as spending too much time in the car. We would have driven anywhere so long as we were together.

I always offered my Volvo. First, it seemed like the cool, generous thing to do. Second, it ensured that everyone had to listen to my music. Nobody could cook, yet we were always piling into my station wagon for aspirational trips to the grocery store on College Avenue, the one that took about six songs to get to. We crossed the Bay Bridge simply to get ice cream, justifying a whole new mixtape. There was a twenty-four-hour Kmart down 880 that we discovered one night on the way back from giving someone a lift to the airport—the ultimate gesture of friendship. A half-hour drive just to buy notepads or underwear in the dead of night, and it was absolutely worth it. Occasionally, a stray, scratchy pop tune would catch someone’s attention. What’s this? I’d heard these songs hundreds of times before. But to listen to them with other people: it was what I’d been waiting for.

Passengers had different personalities. Some called shotgun with a neurotic intensity, as though their entire sense of self relied on sitting up front. Sammi flicked her lighter all the time, until one afternoon when the glove compartment caught on fire. Paraag always ejected my tapes and insisted on listening to the radio. Anthony, forever staring out the window. You might come no closer to touching another person than in a cramped backseat, sharing a seat belt meant for one.

I had taken my parents’ fear of blind spots to heart, and my head constantly bounded from side to side, checking the various mirrors, noting cars in neighboring lanes, in between sneaking glances at my friends to see if anyone else noticed that Pavement was far superior to Pearl Jam. I was responsible for everyone’s safety, and for their enrichment, too.

I have a photo of Ken and Suzy sitting shoulder to shoulder in the back just as we’re about to embark on a short road trip. They’re chewing gum, smiling. I remember nothing about the trip except the excitement of leaving for someplace else. Finals were over, and before we went our separate ways for summer, a bunch of us spent the night at a house a few hours away from Berkeley. The fun, minor danger of driving in a caravan, as though on a secret mission, weaving through traffic, carefully looking in the rearview to see that everyone else was still behind you. Swerving from lane to lane or tailgating when we were the only cars on the road. I probably spent more time making the mixtape than it took to drive to the house and back. We wouldn’t even be gone for twenty-four hours. But there was the novelty of sleeping bags, no homework, waking up in the morning somewhere unfamiliar and new, and that was enough.

In general, I wasn’t used to seeing Ken in the backseat. We spent a lot of nights driving around Berkeley, his leg propped up on the passenger side door, his eyes scanning the horizon for undiscovered coffee shops, some out-of-the-way dive bar that would become our haunt once we turned twenty-one. He was always overdressed—a collared shirt, a Polo jacket, things I would never wear—but maybe it was just that he was ready for adventure. More often than not, a song’s drive to 7-Eleven for cigarettes.

At that age, time moves slow. You’re eager for something to happen, passing time in parking lots, hands deep in your pockets, trying to figure out where to go next. Life happened elsewhere, it was simply a matter of finding a map that led there. Or maybe, at that age, time moves fast; you’re so desperate for action that you forget to remember things as they happen. A day felt like forever, a year was a geological era. The leap from sophomore to junior year of college suggested unprecedented new heights of poise and maturity. Back then, your emotions were always either very high or very low, unless you were bored, and nobody in human history had ever been this bored before. We laughed so hard we thought we’d die. We drank so much we learned there was a thing called alcohol poisoning. I always feared I had alcohol poisoning. We stayed up so late, possessed by delirium, that we came up with a theory of everything, only we forgot to write it down. We cycled through legendary infatuations sure to devastate us for the rest of our lives.

For a while, you were convinced that you would one day write the saddest story ever.

I remember listening to the Fugees. I remember the chill of the air. I remember the morning after, when everyone emerged from their own corner of the house, and Ken stepped out onto the deck, holding a mug of coffee. How does he know how to make coffee? I thought to myself. I should know how to do that, too. I have a photo of him still as he looks out toward the morning, clouds reflecting in his glasses. He wore glasses only on occasion, in a manner that made him seem serious, grown-up—never a nerd.

After breakfast—what could we have possibly eaten?—we ventured out to the white sand beach, though the weather was no good. I wore a thrift polka-dot button-up with a frayed collar, a brown cardigan, and a striped yellow-and-black beanie. Only my taupe Vans had been manufactured in our lifetime. There’s a photo where I’m squatting down like a catcher, pensively looking for seashells. Ken stands behind, leaning over me and waving gaily to the camera. He wears a flannel-lined navy blue jacket, tastefully baggy jeans, and brown boots. In another picture, he’s perched coolly on a tall rock. “Take one of me and Huascene,” he asks Anthony. He’s affecting a debonair look, while I’m leaning next to him with a goofy smile.

Back then, years passed when you wouldn’t pose for a picture. You wouldn’t think to take a picture at all. Cameras felt intrusive to everyday life. It was weird to walk around with a camera, unless you worked for the school paper, which made picture taking seem a little less creepy. Maybe if you had a camera, you used it during those last few days of school, at parties or as people were packing up, the logic of last-minute cramming applied to the documentation of memories. If someone tried to take your picture, even if it was meant to be silly or spontaneous, you still fussed and awkwardly posed, because there was a finality to it, one or two snaps at most, any more would seem obsessive. A moment would pass, unremarked upon, until months later, when you developed photos you had taken at a concert or birthday party, a proper event worth chronicling, and you discovered some images of friends getting ready to go out, or else a slice-of-life candid intended to burn through the end of the roll. You’d forgotten about this. Later, when photography became ubiquitous, pictures were evidence that you existed at all, day in and day out. They registered a pattern. Looking back, you began to doubt the sequence of events. If, in the absence of proof, anything had happened at all.

When my father moved to Taiwan, my family bought a fax machine. In theory, this was so he could help me with my math homework. I was starting high school, where everything, from what instrument I played to the well roundedness of my transcript, suddenly seemed consequential. A few years earlier, in seventh grade, I tested just well enough to skip two years of math, and I was now paying for it. I had peaked too early. In fact, I was very bad at math. Like many immigrants who prized education, my parents retained faith in the mastery of technical fields, like the sciences, where answers weren’t left to interpretation. You couldn’t discriminate against the right answer. But I preferred to spend my time interpreting things.

Faxing was cheaper than long-distance calling, and far less pressure. There were no halting, wasteful silences. You simply dialed the recipient and fed a sheet of paper through the machine, and a facsimile printed out on the other side of the world. The time difference between Cupertino and Hsinchu was such that I could fax my father a question in the evening and expect an answer by the time I woke up. My homework requests were always marked urgent.

He carefully explained the principles of geometry in the margins, apologizing if anything was rushed or unclear, as he was very busy establishing himself at his new job. I skimmed the explanations and copied down the equations and proofs. Every now and then, I rewarded his quick, careful attention by interspersing the next set of math questions with a digest of American news: I told him about Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive, I narrated the events that led up to the Los Angeles riots, I kept him up to date on the fate of the Giants. I told him about cross-country practice, made honest commitments to work harder at school. I listed the new songs I liked, and he would seek them out in Taipei’s cassette stalls, and tell me which ones he liked, too:

I like the November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. The Metallica is also great. I couldn’t enjoy the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. The old songs reinterpreted by Mariah Carey (I’ll Be There) and Michael Bolton (To Love Somebody) are marvelous. The MTV’s “unplug” is a great idea!

As a teenager, I ultimately had better things to do than fax with my dad. He seized upon anything I mentioned and barraged me with questions. I described one of my classes as boring, and he interrogated my use of the term, observing “lots of ‘challenges’ are emotional ‘boring’ but reasonable ‘useful.’” I mentioned that we were covering the 1960s in history class, and he asked, “You are convinced that Oswald alone killed JFK?”

He always asked me what I thought about things. Maybe it was his attempt to prolong our back-and-forth. He brought up sports, something I didn’t think interested him at all. We were like two guys trading small talk at a hardware store.

Redskin is too much for Bill!?

How’s the Nicks? [Knicks]

It’s Jordan vs. Buckley! [Barkley]

This World Series was spectacular.

Whenever there was a weeklong break from school, my mom and I flew to Taiwan to visit him. Sometimes, I tried to seem consumed by schoolwork so that maybe it made more sense for him to visit us in the Bay Area rather than us going all the way there. This never worked. We spent summers and winters there; weeks would pass when the only people I spoke to were my parents and their middle-aged friends.

I never wanted to go to Taiwan. I couldn’t understand why my parents wanted to go back to a place they had chosen to leave.

My father left Taiwan for the United States in 1965, when he was twenty-one, and he’d be nearly twice as old before he set foot there again. In those days, you left if you were able, especially if you were a promising student. A dozen other physics majors graduated alongside him from Tunghai University, and ten of them ended up pursuing careers abroad. My father flew from Taipei to Tokyo to Seattle to Boston. He scanned the crowd for the friend who’d come all the way from Providence to pick him up at the airport and drop him off in Amherst.

But his friend didn’t know how to drive, so he, in turn, promised to buy lunch for another guy, a man my dad didn’t know, in exchange for a ride to the Boston airport, then Amherst, and finally back to Providence. The two young men greeted my father at the gate, traded backslaps, and rushed him to the car, where they stowed the sum total of his worldly possessions—textbooks and sweaters, mostly—in the trunk. Then they set off for Boston’s Chinatown, a portal back to a world they had left behind. Camaraderie and goodwill were fine enough reasons to drive hours to fetch someone from the airport; just as important was the airport’s proximity to food you couldn’t get in small, northeastern college towns.

In the years that followed, a willing maroon far from home, my father acquired various characteristics that might have marked him as an American. He lived in New York, witnessed and participated in student protests, and, according to photographic evidence, once sported long hair and vaguely fashionable pants. He arrived as a devotee of classical music, but within a few years his favorite song was the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” He subscribed very briefly to The New Yorker, before realizing it wasn’t meant for newcomers like him and requesting a refund. He discovered the charms of pizza and rum raisin ice cream. Whenever a new grad student was set to arrive from Taiwan, he and his friends piled into the nearest available car to pick them up. It was a ritual, and it was a type of freedom—on the road and possibly eating well—that was not to be passed up.

If Americans at the time knew anything about Taiwan, it was as an obscure island in the vicinity of China and Japan, where cheap plastic things were manufactured for export. When my mother was a child, her father set up a chalkboard in the family’s kitchen where he would write a new word in English each day. World War II had interrupted my grandfather’s medical studies, so he became a civil servant. He wanted slightly more for his children. My grandparents had their children choose American names, like Henry or Carol. The children picked up the basics of English, this bizarre, new language, which they might use to speak a new future into being. They learned about the rest of the English-speaking world through a subscription to Life magazine, where my mom first discovered the existence of something in America called Chinatown.

When she arrived in the United States in 1971 (Taipei–Tokyo–San Francisco), the family who picked her up had the decency to wait a day, so she could recover from the long journey, before taking her to eat Chinese food. She was on her way to study public health at Michigan State. Soon after she got to East Lansing, signed a lease, enrolled in classes, and bought a stack of nonrefundable textbooks, she received a message from her father. It turned out that as she was making her way to Michigan, a letter had reached the family home in Taipei informing her that she’d been accepted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her top choice. So, my mother recovered whatever tuition she could from Michigan State and quickly departed for Illinois.

Awards

  • WINNER | 2023
    Pulitzer Prize
  • WINNER | 2022
    The National Book Critics Circle Award - Autobiography
  • LONGLIST | 2023
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

Praise

WINNER OF THE 2023 PULITZER PRIZE IN MEMOIR NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR • ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE NOMINEE • WINNER OF THE CHINESE AMERICAN LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION'S BEST BOOK AWARD FOR ADULT NONFICTION

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, TIME, The Atlantic, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, NPR, The Boston Globe, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Millions, BookPage, Lit Hub, Reader's Digest, Vulture, Goop

“An elegant and poignant coming of age account that considers intense, youthful friendships but also random violence that can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives.” —2023 Pulitzer Prize Committee

“Quietly wrenching. . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion — all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.” The New York Times

“[Hsu] is that rare thing: a chronicler and critic who [engages] fully, emotionally as well as intellectually, with every subject. . . In Stay True Hsu makes us see how his and Ken’s and their friends’ stories are tossed on the sea of history, how identity takes shape from a thousand factors, how personalities flow into one another, how chance and destiny can be hard to tell apart.” —Lucy Sante, The New York Review of Books

“An evolutionary step for Asian American literature.”New York Magazine

“[A] luminous and tender-hearted story. . . Stay True is a nuanced and beautiful evocation of young adulthood in all its sloppy, exuberant glory.”The Wall Street Journal

“[Hsu writes] with devastating emotional precision, questioning the possibility of meaning in tragedy and the value of the stories we tell while attempting to find it. [Stay True] is a thoughtful, affecting book. . . For all the soul-searching, therapeutic work and years of rumination imprinted on Stay True, it’s the ache of a friendship lost but honored that will linger for readers. Though Hsu claims, self-deprecatingly, that the term ‘good friend … only occasionally applies to me,’ the lasting effect of Stay True is that of an extraordinary, devotional act of friendship.” The Washington Post

“A beautiful memoir [that] goes deep into the heart of friendships.” —The Financial Times

“Not since Ann Patchett wrote about her friend Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty has there been such an achingly tender book about a platonic friendship.” —The Los Angeles Times

"[Stay True] is funny and wise, an elegiac work of self-forgiveness. What a gift it is, Hsu concludes, to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, while you were busy becoming yourself." —The Atlantic

"This fleet-footed memoir tracks a complicated and bittersweet portrait of Asian-American life with great verve and heart. . . Hsu pays poignant tribute to friendship and grief." —The Boston Globe

Stay True is as affecting as a great pop song.” —Jenn Pelly, Pitchfork

“Easily one of the most inventive memoirs to come out in years, Stay True is both deeply personal while also leaving room for its readers to reflect on their own life stories and the nostalgia we all carry with us. . . Hsu uses his keen memory and command of cultural touchpoints to craft something indelible here—a portrait of two unlikely friends that might very well epitomize a generation.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, The Today Show

“[Hsu has] crafted a transformative addition to the Asian American canon and to the critical conception of what a memoir is capable of. . . For all the deep labor of reflection in Hsu’s book, his memoir is about the harder work of moving forward, missing pieces in hand.” —Keetje Kuipers, National Book Critics Circle

“Hua Hsu's astonishing new memoir. . .explores the faultiness of memory and how grief can reorient a friend group. But more singularly, Stay True is about the beautiful, unpredictable alchemy of how friendship—particularly male friendship—forms in the first place.” —GQ
 
“I’ve never read so perfect a description of collegiate friendship as the scenes in Stay True in which Hsu recalls the long days and nights spent with his friends. . . [Stay True] is about grief [but also] it is an exploration of what friendship means, and how it can mean different things from relationship to relationship.” —Slate

"Easily one of the best nonfiction books about friendship ever, right up there with Patti Smith’s Just Kids.” —The Atlantic, "Six Memoirs That Go Beyond Memories"
 
“[Stay True] elevates the entire [memoir] genre with a kind of athletic ease. . . I'm always obsessed with how tightly engineered Hsu's writing is—as elegant and seamless as the rivets of a submarine—and it’s nothing short of delightful to see his prose deployed in such a personal investigation on the pains of being pure at heart.” —Vanity Fair

“Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity. . .a map to his soul’s becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.” —Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn

“Deep feelings coursed through me as I read Hua Hsu's story: Grief, nostalgia, pity, terror, mercy…Stay True is a crucial, sense-making, healing book.” —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior

“At once a coming-of-age memoir, a devastating elegy for a departed friend, and a mixtape of all the music and other shards of culture and experience that coalesce into an identity, Stay True is wildly original. Hua Hsu writes with such grace and wry humor about so many things: friendship and loss, being young, the joys of hanging out, the pleasures and comforts of inconsequential passions. A glorious, unforgettable book.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain

“I was softly heartbroken by Stay True, which is an elegy not just for a friend but for so much else that feels lost and irreplaceable—a time of tender idleness and unmediated presence, a way that it was once possible to be young. The things that make Hua Hsu’s writing so singular—his searching grace, his rigorous sensitivity, his ability to make a living world out of the seemingly liminal—crystallize in this once-in-a-lifetime book.” —Jia Tolentino, New York Times bestselling author of Trick Mirror

“'I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room

“A moving portrait of friends, death, doubt, and everything in between. . . Hsu writes with tenderness but scorching precision. . . Genuinely one of the most moving portraits of friendship to have come out in recent years.” The Nation

“A coming-of-age story, perhaps unlike any other I’ve come across from an Asian American writer. . . Undeniably fun, a testament to the feverish joy only young people can find in shooting the shit. While it hits at several themes—the Asian American experience, trauma, and the funny mechanics of memory—Stay True is perfumed with a distinct promise throughout, the glow that comes with knowing that you’ve met your tribe.” —Mother Jones

“New Yorker
staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . .Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.” Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.” Kirkus Reviews *starred review*

“Perhaps one of the best-ever books about friendship. . . Tenderhearted.” Reader's Digest

“Hsu’s. . .posture of knowingness and absolute innocence—shattered when his friend is killed—make for a poignant tale of love and loss.” People

Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer’s life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend’s violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best.” —Ocean Vuong, New York Times bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.”  Literary Hub, "Our 38 Favorite Books of 2022"

“In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu’s] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.” Booklist *starred review*

“In his moving memoir Stay True. . .the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu portrays, and in one section addresses, a companion from his youth who has stayed with him in absentia.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s

“Lovely, low-key. . . A moving portrait of a persona undone by tragedy.” —Vogue.com, "The Best Books To Read This Fall"

Stay True is a book whose subtlety renders its emotional wallop all the more powerful.” –Lit Hub

“Affecting. . . Sincere, funny, wistful—the phrase ‘stay true’ reflects the tone of the book and also its goal: to honestly remember a lost friend.” The A.V. Club

“At its core, Stay True is a memoir of a friendship—of any friendship: what we learn from others, what we give in exchange, and how it gives shape to the story we tell ourselves of ourselves.” Electric Lit

“[A] gentle, tragic memoir. . . So many of Hsu’s descriptions are made poignant by their photographic quality.” Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

“Gut-wrenching and beautifully written, Stay True is an unforgettable story about grief, identity, and the indelible mark a friendship can leave on our lives.” Real Simple

“The New Yorker staff writer has achieved near rock-star status with his ’90s coming-of-age memoir. . . [A] gorgeous, gut-wrenching story of a young friendship that ended tragically.” The Hollywood Reporter

“In this elegant, open-hearted elegy for his fallen friend, Hsu does the labor of love, of taking time to recall and make record of the quotidian detail of another man's life. In this way, he reveals for us all how aesthetics are products of both relationships and of terrible loss. The river of this memoir is quiet and deep, unassuming, it enters the reader and changes us with its capacity for connection.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

“Hua Hsu’s Stay True is a rich, intelligent, and beautifully crafted portrait of just about everything that matters in life. Here is friendship, art, and family cast against a distinctly American backdrop of migration in language so precise and subtle that you might not even notice how it breaks and mends your heart.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names

“In crafting Stay True, Hua Hsu has opted to trust the consequential size of memories shared with Ken over what we readers feel we are owed. The result is one of the finest memoirs I've ever read.” —Kiese Laymon, New York Times bestselling author of Heavy

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