Unidentified Suburban Object/ posted in: Reading Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic on April 26th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: United States
“The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera — are because she’s ASIAN.
Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.”
I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but the premise of this story was too cute to pass up. Chloe can’t understand why her parents won’t talk about Korea. It seems like Chloe knows more about Korea than they do and they were born there. Any attempts to ask questions are quickly shut down with the excuse that it is too painful to talk about it.
When Chloe gets a new teacher who happens to be Korean, she is so excited. Her teacher encourages her to look into her family history. There is even an assignment to ask a relative to tell you about an event in their life and report on it. That’s when things start to unravel.
The author shows what it is like to be the only person of a nationality in an otherwise homogeneous community. He shows how books can be a lifeline. There is a great section where Chloe tries to find science fiction books with Asians on the cover and can’t do it. The only problem with having that in the book is this:
Yes, Chloe’s dad owns a fish store. But you’d think with a big part of the story focusing on the lack of Asian representation in sci-fi (and especially on covers), maybe, just maybe, there could be Asians on the cover?
Even if you don’t usually read middle grade, this is a book worth picking up. Chloe is a believable middle schooler in the midst of an identity crisis. Her story is worth the read to understand how microaggressions can add up even if the speaker had the best of intentions.