Book Review: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Book: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Published July 2015 by Riverhead Books|448 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, an inspiring novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into a more Western world.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

After reading Girl In Translation, I knew I had to read Mambo In Chinatown.  While I didn’t love Mambo In Chinatown, I still really liked it, and I liked it a lot more than Girl In Translation.

One thing I noticed while reading this book is that something about it rings true.  It seems like Kwok draws on her own experiences as an immigrant when she writing, and it shows, because something about Mambo In Chinatown felt really personal.  Also, I think Kimberly from Girl In Translation makes an appearance in this book…at least, it seems like her, and it would be really cool if it were.

I did like Charlie.  She’s doing everything she can to help out her father and her sister, and you see how she struggles with reconciling two different worlds.  I was surprised with what happens with her sister, and I hope she gets the help she needs.  I respect that their dad is doing what he thinks is best for them, but it ended up doing more harm then good, it would seem.

And Charlie did have a lot on her plate- for some reason, I initially thought she was younger than she was, but it’s clear she cares about her sister and that she’s doing her best to help out.  I love that she ends up learning how to dance, and considering her mom was a ballerina, I thought there would be more connections to that.  Still, I’m glad it worked out for her, and while her dad wasn’t happy about it, it seems like he comes around, which is good.

Speaking of her dad, he does do his best in raising Charlie and her sister, but a lot of work still falls to Charlie.  I’m glad she finally said something about it to him, because we do see some changes in him after that.  I did hate that he didn’t want to give Western Medicine a try.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the medical issues his wife had, or if he just didn’t believe in it, but it was frustrating, even if I could understand it.  He went through quite the change, and it happened pretty fast, so that was a little odd, but at least he’s trying.

Charlie was easy to relate to- she’s imperfect and clumsy and she just wants a better life.  I really liked her, and I thought she became a lot more confident by the end of the book.  I’m glad things worked out for her, and that she has great friends and family.

4 stars.  I really liked Mambo In Chinatown, and seeing how much Charlie changed by the end of the book.

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What I’ve Been Reading: The Fourth And Final Part

So I was going to try to fit this series of posts into 3 posts, but that would have meant the last part would have been insanely long, and I just didn’t feel like doing that, so I thought I’d try to get one more part out of it, especially since I have quite a few things to say about the last 3 books I wanted to talk about.

  • There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins.  When I saw Stephanie Perkins had a new book out, I knew I had to read it.  I loved Anna And The French Kiss and Isla And The Happily Ever After, and I figured I’d love this book as well.  Except I didn’t.  If Scream- or any of those teen horror movies from the late 90’s/early 2000’s- were in novel form, you’d have this book.  It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t work as a book for me.  I think it could be interesting as an audio book, particularly for the chapters narrated by the murdered students.  I just don’t know that I liked it enough to give the audio book a try.  It wasn’t as suspenseful as I thought it would be, especially when we find out who’s behind everything.  And the reason why was lame, in my book.  I can understand being jealous but it seemed like a pretty weak reason to start killing people.  I also didn’t really care, considering we knew nothing about this character who barely appeared.  And Makani’s reason why she ended up in Nebraska was…boring.  It was really built up, and then I felt let down when it was revealed what had actually happened.  I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that.  It had a lot more romance than I thought it would, and while I don’t mind romance, I think this book needed less romance and more suspense and tension.  There’s Someone Inside Your House gets 2 stars.
  • Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, and narrated by Grayce Wey.  I did this book as an audio book, and I’m glad I did, because I really liked it as an audio book.  One thing that surprised me when I first started reading the book was the age of Kimberly.  I thought she was a lot older when the book started, and I was surprised when I found out how young she really was.  At the same time, it was nice because we see how much she changes after moving, and how hard she had to work to get what she wanted.  I really felt for Kimberly, and how she had to take on a lot because her mother spoke very limited English.  The apartment they lived in, and the fact that she had to help her mother at the factory just to finish the work on time.  And Aunt Paula was a horrible, abusive woman.  I was glad when Kimberly and her mother no longer had to rely on Aunt Paula to get by.  I can’t imagine going through what Kimberly went through, and how much I don’t see or realize because I don’t have to.  I can’t imagine living in such a horrible apartment and in terrible working conditions just to have a chance to live here and reach for something better.  I wasn’t a fan of the ending, because it was unexpected.  But I’m glad that things worked out for Kimberly, and she was still able to reach the goals that she had set for herself.  Girl In Translation gets 4 stars for a good look at what it’s like to be an immigrant in America.
  • Turtles All The Way Down by John Green.  I was both excited and nervous about this book when I heard that John Green had a new book.  Excited because it’s a new John Green book but also nervous because I loved TFIOS and Looking For Alaska, but didn’t care for his other books.  I ended up really liking it, and Aza is a great character.  She’s the most realistic of Green’s characters, and she was a lot more relatable than some of his other characters.  This book also focused on Aza’s mental health, and I really liked seeing that, because it really felt like it was something that John Green himself has lived through and dealt with.  And it was a nice change from the quirky teens falling in love that we usually see with his books.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine as well (and again, I did love TFIOS and Looking For Alaska) but it was still nice to see him do something different.  There’s still the philosophical conversations and trivia (both nerdy and regular trivia) that you see in a typical John Green book, and I will admit that it was nice to see that.  Aza’s struggles with OCD and anxiety were really well done.  And while everyone’s experiences are different as far as mental illness go, I still feel like it’s something that will speak to a lot of people.  I’m glad we got another John Green book, and that I really liked it, because TFIOS was such a big hit that I was nervous it wouldn’t.  I didn’t completely love it, but I did like it a lot more than I thought I would.  Turtles All The Way Down gets 4 stars.