Meet the Brightons, a biracial family who achieved the American Dream by creating Kaleidoscope, a “global bohemian” shopping empire that took New York City by storm. This family seemed to have it all, until a tragic accident sets off a chain of events and revelations that shows how nobody is perfect.
Kaleidoscope is a seemingly provocative, but heartfelt story about a young woman grappling with the grief and absolute dysfunction of her family due to a catastrophic accident that took away the one person who was the foundation of their livelihood. Starting from rags to riches, the Brightons’ shining star is the perfect eldest daughter, Morgan. She is the chief designer at the heavily Eastern-inspired Kaleidoscope, who specializes in seeing what others don’t. On the opposite end is Riley, the younger sister who is always being overshadowed by Morgan. It doesn’t help that she has zero interest in her family’s obsessive fascination with the culture and art of India.
Although Riley is essentially the black sheep of the family, she absolutely adores Morgan. Her level of adoration is so strong that it feels borderline toxic. The novel mainly follows the perspective of Riley and sometimes her inner thoughts can be difficult to relate to. Half of the book is spent either on her reminiscing her childhood with her sister or the events leading up to her death. All these events center around how Morgan simply wants to do what she wants, and Riley giving in every single time even if it’s at the expense of her own mental health. Yet, not once does Riley ever resent her sister. She instead tells herself that she’ll be happier letting her sister have her way, and that’s how life should be.
Of course, Riley’s very sheltered and narrow world gets shattered the moment she receives news that Morgan was killed in a freak accident while on the way to pick up a birthday cake for Riley. This is where the novel finally picks up as the story now follows Riley trying to cope with her grief. The last half of the novel focuses on Riley and her sister’s ex-boyfriend traveling around the world to deal with the loss. On this journey, they discover parts of themselves, including the secrets of those Riley thought she knew best.
Although there’s a lot going on in the novel, it’s ultimately a story about a dysfunctional and toxic family who just mopes around with zero consequences or character development. At times, the intention of the novel gets muddled with unnecessary flashbacks and conflicting descriptions. While the trip with Riley and Morgan’s ex-boyfriend is supposed to be meaningful, the novel spends a surprisingly short amount of time on it. It’s chaotic as Riley describes it, and serves to be the most interesting part of the novel, especially with the plot twist. However, this revelation unfortunately leads to a brief and unsatisfying resolution. There’s no real conclusion or even a full explanation other than somehow Riley moves on with her life.
Kaleidoscope is a simple book about a family who wanted to view their world through colored glass to make it seem it was rich and bright. In the end, it felt like everything was gray-scaled since the characters didn’t truly shine, and the plot was lackluster in its direction leaving readers with just pieces of broken glass.
Wong’s writing, however, as chaotic as some of the passages can be, is extremely vibrant. Her descriptions of the environment, whether it’s New York City or on a train ride to Budapest, are richly detailed and immersive. There are times when it almost feels like you are exactly on the same street as our characters. It’s just unfortunate that our time spent in those moments get cut off so quickly when we get stuck dealing with the character’s tedious thoughts. Perhaps with a clearer story flow and more intriguing characters, the story could have excelled, but as is its simply just alright.