"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

{book} dumpling days

One of the first things Natalya said when she finished the book, “I’m hungry!” Isn’t she always these days? But then, I started reading this just before bed and as I set it half-finished on my headboard I thought, “I’m hungry!” I’m not sure which is yummier about the read, the description of all the food or the story that features it.

“You’re Taiwanese-American,” Mom said. “And, no matter what, that’s what you’ll always be.”

Forever, I thought. I’d always be Taiwanese-American, no matter if I spoke Chinese, made my eyes bigger, or was called a Twinkie. Even if I didn’t like it. Being Taiwanese-American was like making a brush stroke. The mark couldn’t be erased, and the ink and the paper could never be separated. They were joined forever. (221)

I’ve yet to read The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat (which I plan to remedy very soon), but Dumpling Days is a new chapter in Pacy Lin’s life. She and her family are flying to Taiwan for the month to visit her parents’ homeland and celebrate her grandmother’s very important 60th birthday. Their visit coincides with Ghost Month, which works perfectly within the story because Pacy can’t help but feel like a ghost herself. She often feels as if she does not belong, and upon occasion, disliked. Pacy cannot speak or read the language (Chinese or Taiwanese) and the culture is unfamiliar which makes for some very hard moments. But it isn’t as if she feels 100% like she belongs back home in New Hartford, New York either. Much of Dumpling Days is Pacy coming to find and embrace her identity as a Taiwanese-American.

Pacy, as our narrator, has a great sense of humor so while serious topics are explored, there is a levity I found completely charming. Another thing I appreciated about the way the story is framed, using a child narrator, is that Pacy and her sisters needn’t be politically correct. While Grace Lin has adults to debunk misconceptions, or clarify potentially negative misgivings, the children are allowed to be disgusted by things like restrooms, or stinky tofu. There is an irreverence that some of the adults observe that I really admire. Grace Lin is telling a story, not selling people on Taiwanese culture. The sincerity is a gift. The sale is a given.

One of the selling points of Taiwanese culture for Pacy is the food. It is an accessible way for her to explore the culture her parents want her to take part in. Her love of dumplings (and food in general) becomes a source of humor, but it also creates a thread and a means to share a story or lesson in language. Art is another way her parents think to introduce their artist daughter to her heritage. This feels tenuous to Pacy, but it turns into a valuable source of metaphor and a place to further explore what she thinks she knows about herself, and what she has yet to learn.

I really enjoy Grace Lin’s writing. She slips in gorgeous little similes and metaphors here and there and her sense of humor and pacing is flawless. I adore her sense of storytelling. In Dumpling Days she finds perfect moments to share a story with Pacy (and us) that enriches the cultural experience. These moments find relevance in the text so the tales are natural outpourings of the story—in other words, it doesn’t feel contrived. For instance, in explaining a bit about Ghost Month, Pacy’s father shares a story about his Great Uncle-Zhuzhan. The format shifts into a heading “Honoring Great-Uncle Zhuzhan” and the text becomes italicized (30-32). The print quietly returns to the greater story as the father finishes his tale. Between these little narratives and the illustrations by the author, the story takes on a nice texture. The playfulness extends to the bottom corners of the book featuring a flip-book sequence mimicking the crosswalk signal figure Pacy tells the readers about.

Few books are as informative and entertaining as Dumpling Days. Be sure to plan a dinner to compliment the reading. And take some time to explore some of the conversations in the book about identity and culture. I think the book heightens a sensitivity to immigrants and cultures other than your own. And I think it encourages the reader to explore and celebrate their own heritage, as well. I found myself not only hungry for dumplings and more stories from Taiwan, but for the comfort of my own stories and the spaetzle that comes with them.

_____________________

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Hardcover, 261 pages.

Grace Lin is also author of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I also highly recommend.

“From The Mixed-Up Files…” blog a wonderful interview with Grace Lin about Dumpling Days.

"review" · fiction · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

8490112Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Little, Brown & Co, 2011.

Hardcover, 418 pages. Young Adult Fiction.

(a National Book Award Finalist)

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious errands; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? ~Publisher’s Comments

Hello and Welcome Laini Taylor to the field of Young Adult Fiction. All those already heavily populating the shelves of the Paranormal and Romance, Taylor has upped the ante. Yes, I know Taylor is already much celebrated in the YA realm with Lips Touch Three Times,and those coming out of Middle-Grade fiction should be familiar with her Faeries of Dreamdark series (which is fantastic). Just the same, Daughter of Smoke & Bone is playing the popular game this time, and winning.

Admittedly, I do not read much Young Adult, and even more rarely the Paranormal Romance. But swimming amidst the heavily perfumed and bloodied waters, Laini Taylor should rise to the top; that is, if good writing is still respected. And if one should need to defend the phenomena and marketing darling that is Paranormal Romance, Taylor is a good sell for deftness and originality while still including the beloved belly-warming and a suitable avatar for the reader.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well. (part 1)

One of the many things that blew me away in the Faeries of Dreamdark series was not only her effortless world-building, but Taylor’s use of a myriad of myths to her own end. She spins her own yarns out of old and disparate threads and weaves her own original works. In Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Taylor takes the figures of the Seraphim and Chimaera and creates a marvelous history and conflict. And while the story is populated with these mythically-proportioned creatures, the story itself is very familiar—on a number of levels.

One, is the Fantasy Taylor creates. A world at war after the slave class finally rebels against their oppressors. The conflict when two star-crossed lovers meet. The prices they must pay. Two, Karou, whomever she really is, is a bad-ass. She is beautiful and mysterious and magic. The most beautiful men (plural) on set desire her, and not in desire’s most mild form. While I understand this move, I really hate it. Are flaws flaws if the heroines are still so effing appealing?  Three, there is the charmingly quirky friend. Taylor writes friendships really, really well–so well you wish she could come and write you some friendships. And family relationships. Her characterizations are damn good is what it is. Four, the romance is hot*. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by a MAN like Akiva? (a few of us are so lucky.) Of course, it is, at present, that inarguable physical draw–so as to make it unmistakable that the two belong together (on some primal level; you know, the most trustworthy source we have). Five, “to be continued…” Yes, Daughter of Smoke & Bone is a Book 1.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is the kind of romance I loved as a Teen–and still do. sigh. But real love is complicated. It must test its physical symptoms.The clothes have to be retrieved from the floor and put back on. True Love must transcend time and conflict, doesn’t it?  And boy is there a doozy of a complication. So, thanks for that Ms. Taylor. Also, the kind of female protagonist we love doesn’t disintegrate in the presence of a sexy male protagonist; especially one we are allowed to get to know.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, while primarily Karou, shifts when necessary into principle characters and their histories. Any departures are carefully timed and tuned. And yet, Daughter of Smoke & Bone isn’t too predictable in the unraveling of its grand mystery of who Karou is.  And while I hope that the subsequent books will be handled in the fashion of the Dreamdark trilogy**, I am guessing there is more of Karou to be revealed. At the very least, there will be more on Karou and Akiva—there’d better. I am excited to see the realm Taylor will manufacture for us in the continuation of Daughter of Smoke & Bone. I only hope I will not have to wait a really long time for it.

************************

*harlequin-esque. The sexual content is not explicit, but present. Karou regrets the loss of her virginity early on (in reference); and later there is the less regrettable loss (more detailed). Perhaps a good lesson on minding the quality of your first partner? And in thinking harder about the theme/placement of those tattoos? If only they could be wished away. anyway, just a note for those concerned parents with their tweens shopping Teen shelves. Taylor is not terribly gratuitous, and is age appropriate as Daughter of Smoke & Bone is Young Adult fiction.

**Each were woven around a new protagonist’s adventure, while still maintaining the trilogy’s overarching story and the consciousness previous heroes and their trajectories.

********************

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Website, wherein an excerpt is provided.

my post on the Faeries of Dreamdark, Books 1 & 2

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend

clara lee and the apple pie dream

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

by Jenny Han

w/ pictures by Julia Kuo

Little, Brown, and Books, 2011.

150 pages, hardcover.

Selected from the Concenter List, borrowed from the Library, and highly anticipated after recently reading Han’s Shug.

The Apple Blossom Festival is coming up, and eight-year-old Clara Lee has been thinking about trying out for Little Miss Apple Pie, but she is afraid of making a speech in front of the whole school. One night she has a really bad dream,  but Clara Lee knows her grandfather, a “dream genius,” wouldn’t lie to her when he reassures her that such dreams bring Good Luck. The day proves to be exceedingly Lucky, but will Good Luck stick around long enough to help her win the role of Little Miss Apple Pie? Or will all the unlucky things that begin to happen mean the ruin of everything?

Jenny Han’s Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is absolutely delightful. It is a sweet little chapter book for the 8-10 crowd with a sassy protagonist who will easily charm any reader. And she’s not all that will charm you.

Clara Lee’s home is multi-generational. Her grandfather lives with her and her father, mother and younger sister. He is the center of Clara Lee whole world. She loves to spend time with him, tells him everything, and hates to disappoint him. He gives her his attention and great advice, and is ever learning new English words from Clara Lee,

“What’s gorgeous?”

“It means really, really, really pretty,” I said.

“How you spell?” Grandpa dropped his weeds and pulled out his notebook and pen.

“Um, G-O-R—“ I hesitated. How did you spell “gorgeous”,” anyway? “J-O-U-S.” (64-5).

The relationship with the grandfather centers the book and is an incredibly lovely argument for the value of having a home with multiple generations.

Clara Lee is a big sister, in Korean culture: the Uhnee (36). As an elder sister, I really appreciated Clara Lee and her younger sister’s antics; the strongly rendered personalities. Theirs is a source of a great deal of comedy in the read. The family you find in Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is a wonderful relief in children’s fiction. Clara Lee has plenty of the entertaining travails of a 3rd grader without any familial strife more traumatic than a somewhat typical sibling relationship.

Good Luck bolsters Clara Lee’s courage, but the reader comes to realize that in the end it is not Luck that creates the real confidence, but family and friends, and the recognition that Clara Lee herself has the wit (attitude) and capability to pursue her dreams.

Maybe the good and the bad balanced each other out. Maybe there was no such thing as good or bad luck days. Maybe every day had good and bad things, and that was just the way it went. (131)

***

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is certain to be a pleasure for any reader looking for a non-white protagonist, and/or a multi-cultural home. Clara Lee is a second generation Korean American. Korean Americans will likely find familiarity, and those unfamiliar with Korean culture will be enchanted—and informed. Jenny Han has a light and delicate hand in providing insight and perspective without undermining its integrity.

Dionne Gregory was saying how her great-great-great-uncle was one of the founders of this town, and how her family is All-American. American as apple pie.” I sniffled.

“What’s this, American as apple pie?”

“It just means really, really American,” I said.

“So what? So are you, American as apple pie.”

“I don’t think I’m as Amercian as Dionne Gregory,” I said, wiping a tear away.

“Clara-yah, of course you are! You are all-American Korean American”!” Grandpa put his arm around me. “You are both. One hundred percent American, one hundred percent Korean. Doesn’t make you less than anybody else. It makes you more.” (92)

When Clara Lee deliberates the content of her speech, she thinks about the people who populate the small town of Bramley, how they are each special and terribly necessary. The reader will notice, too, how they are not all homogenous, they are distinctly individual, and entertainingly quirky. There can be no doubt that Clara Lee is American-as-Apple-Pie enough to wear the sash and tiara and ride a float in the parade. Whether she is chosen to ride in the parade is of another matter…

***

Jenny Han’s site. Julia Kuo’s site.

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · short story · Tales

a bestiary

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris

Illustrations by Ian Falconer

Little, Brown and Company, 2010

159 pages, hardcover.

If animals were more like us,

if mice kept pets and toads could cuss,

if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated,

sheep sat still and meditated,

then in the forest, field, and dairy

you might find this bestiary,

read by storks, by rats and kitties,

skimmed by cowls with milk-stained titties.

“I found the book to be most droll,”

might quip the bear, the owl, the mole.

Others, though, would be more coarse.

“Bull,” could say the pig and horse.

As to the scribe, they’d quote the hen:

“Trust me, he’s no La Fontaine.”

~dust jacket

David Sedaris has a way of making his audience laugh scornfully at his characters long before they realize that they are, in fact, laughing at themselves. He and Oscar Wilde have that in common. Sedaris’ sharp-witted social commentary has been delivered to us in many forms. In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk his pointed take is in the form of a fable; a modest bestiary with 16 fables, to be more precise. While the venue is new, his critiques are as amusing and blood-letting as ever.

The fables, starring a vast array of animals, average only  a few pages long, but the read isn’t necessarily quick. Some beg further thought and/or an immediate re-read. The stories are accompanied by Ian Falconer’s illustrations; which are a startling shift from his Olivia books—however, not in form, you’ll recognize Falconer, but in content. Needless to say, they are charming companions to the text.

from The Grieving Owl

from The Cat and the Baboon (obviously)

The collections starts off strong with The Cat and the Baboon, setting the tone for the rest of the book. “But what would it hurt to pretend otherwise and cross that fine line between licking ass and simply kissing it?” (7) so the first tale contemplates. What makes one person or their behavior better than another, or one more reprehensible than another?

Story after story come repulsive characters with repulsive actions one after the other, and despite their bestial skins, they are easily recognizable. The caricatures and the anthropomorphism flawlessly done. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a study in hypocrisy, religiosity, bigotry, intimate relations, pet lovers, and child-rearing (among other things). Sedaris peels back the veneer to reveal the further coarseness of many societal/individual machinations; thus the coarseness in the telling of the fable becomes all too appropriate. Sedaris isn’t being edgy or cute, he’s serious and he’s biting.

***********

Coarse language prevents this from being a young person’s book; though they might catch many of the implications, a lot of the humor and commentary are adult in flavor. May not want to leave this lying around if you’ve a young reader in the house.