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The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan
Historical fiction

The Storm We Made


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Vanessa Chan, on your first book!

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by Vanessa Chan

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Quick take

Part family drama, part war epic—this harrowing, emotionally riveting debut depicts the havoc wreaked in WWII Malaya.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence


Malaya, 1945. Cecily Alcantara’s family is in terrible danger: her fifteen-year-old son, Abel, has disappeared, and her youngest daughter, Jasmin, is confined in a basement to prevent being pressed into service at the comfort stations. Her eldest daughter Jujube, who works at a tea house frequented by drunk Japanese soldiers, becomes angrier by the day.

Cecily knows two things: that this is all her fault; and that her family must never learn the truth.

A decade prior, Cecily had been desperate to be more than a housewife to a low-level bureaucrat in British-colonized Malaya. A chance meeting with the charismatic General Fuijwara lured her into a life of espionage, pursuing dreams of an “Asia for Asians.” Instead, Cecily helped usher in an even more brutal occupation by the Japanese. Ten years later as the war reaches its apex, her actions have caught up with her. Now her family is on the brink of destruction—and she will do anything to save them.

Spanning years of pain and triumph, told from the perspectives of four unforgettable characters, The Storm We Made is a dazzling saga about the horrors of war; the fraught relationships between the colonized and their oppressors, and the ambiguity of right and wrong when survival is at stake.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault and child abuse.

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The Storm We Made



Bintang, Kuala Lumpur

February 1945

Japanese-occupied Malaya

Teenage boys had begun to disappear.

The first boy Cecily heard of was one of the Chin brothers, the middle of five hulking boys with narrow foreheads and broad shoulders—they were Boon Hock, Boon Lam, Boon Khong, Boon Hee, and Boon Wai, but their mother called them all Ah Boon, and it was up to the boys to know which one she was calling for. Throughout British rule, the Chin boys were known for being rich and cruel. It was common to see them crowding in a circle behind the Chins’ gaudy brown-and-gold house. They’d be standing over a servant, one of the boys with a switch in his hand and all the boys with glints of excitement in their eyes as the switch made contact with the servant’s skin. When the Japanese arrived before Christmas 1941, the boys were defiant: they glared at the patrolling Kenpeitai soldiers, spat at the ones who chose to approach. It was the middle boy, Boon Khong, who disappeared, just vanished one day as though he had never existed. Just like that, the five Chin brothers were four.

Cecily’s neighbors wondered what had happened to the boy. Mrs. Tan speculated that he had just run away. Puan Azreen, always a cloud of gloom, worried that the boy had gotten into a fight and was lying in a drain somewhere, which made the neighbors peek fearfully into drains as they went about their errands, unsure what they would find. Other mothers shook their head; that’s what happens to bullies, they said, maybe someone had simply had enough. Cecily watched the Chin boys’ mother, curious to see if Mrs. Chin was stationed by the door waiting for news, or if she performed the hysterics of the terrified mother, but Mrs. Chin and the rest of the Chin family kept to themselves. On the rare occasion they left their house, the four boys surrounded their gray-faced parents in an enormous wall of sinew and muscle, keeping them out of sight.

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Why I love it

There is no shortage of World War II historical fiction out there—but seldom do I find one as emotionally gripping and devastating as The Storm We Made. With flowing prose and a sweeping plot, Vanessa Chan’s debut novel burrowed its way into my heart and will be with me for a long time.

Told through the perspectives of four different family members, in The Storm We Made we witness the horrors that were brought upon the Malaysian people by occupying forces during WWII. Starting in 1935, Cecily, a housewife, is trying desperately to end the British occupation of Malaysia. Caught up in a life of espionage, she unknowingly helps an even more brutal occupation by the Japanese take hold. Fast forward to 1945, Cecily carries the burden of her actions with her every day while taking care of her children. When her 15-year-old son Abel suddenly goes missing, Cecily must reckon with her past, knowing that there is one thing she will always fight for: her family.

Make no mistake: The Storm We Made is not an easy read. It confronts the atrocities of war head-on and gives a glimpse of the real-life suffering that so many experienced. But through all that lies a stunning story with a soul and characters that come alive on the page. If you are looking for a truly special read this month, make this one your pick.

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Member ratings (2,633)

  • Alexandra T.

    Las Vegas, NV

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️! What a great debut novel with really compelling characters. There were a couple of moments that fell flat for me, but overall a great book and I look forward to seeing more from Chan!

  • Bekka M.

    Hailey, ID

    Wow, the characters were so rich and the story absolutely heartbreaking - but in a way that made space for considering the light & dark inside of people and time. If I could give it 10 stars I would.

  • Cindy V.

    Santa Fe , NM

    This a well written book. I felt like I was there going through all this with the characters. How absolutely devastating the pain and horrors they suffered. A real eye opener to what war feels like.

  • Eleanor Z.

    Euclid, OH

    I have never learned anything about Malaya (i.e. Malaysia) during WWII and this sounded intriguing. I'm so glad I read this book. It opened my eyes to the atrocities that happened there during WWII.

  • Sarah P.

    Kearney, NE

    THAT was phenomenal. I knew little to basically nothing about the occupation of Malaysia during WW2 & this was very fascinating. These characters: I got sucked up early on & desperately wanted more.

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