Friday, April 01, 2016

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung

Being the only Asian-American in her school draws Chloe Cho a lot of unwanted attention.  And it annoys her to no end that people think she's Chinese or Japanese, or think nothing of spouting cultural stereotypes ("oh, you must be so smart!" etc.) about her.  But more maddening is the way that her parents keep dodging her questions about life back in Korea.  Why won't they answer her questions?

In seventh grade, Chloe's new social studies teacher turns out to actually be Korean as well.  Chloe finally has a way to get answers to her questions!  But what she finds out isn't exactly what she was expecting.  And the revelation about her origins shifts everything that Chloe thought she knew about herself.

An unusual book that, for its first half, plays as a typical celebration-of-diversity/self-discovery story, full of sharp observations of the way that well-meaning people can say terribly thoughtless racist things.  The book could very well have stayed that way and been a darling of librarians seeking to flesh out their middle reader diversity offerings.  Chloe's struggles are quite enlightening and her strong personality makes her appealing in dealing with them. 

But then, at almost exactly the half-way point, the books takes a very abrupt turn.  I don't want to give away any spoilers so I won't reveal what sort of shift takes place, but it pulls the story out of realism and into science fiction.  In doing so, the book stands out as a really unique offering.  But I'm less keen on the result.  Unexpected plot twists need good follow-up and it really seemed like Jung didn't know where to take it.  The result is that the book coasts to the end.  Overall, it's clever but didn't really develop its gimmick.

[I received an Advanced Reviewer's Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The book is scheduled for release on April 26th.]

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