HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR WHATEVER by Annie Choi

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR WHATEVER

Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A debut offering tedious recollections of childhood.

Choi has strung together 13 essays about growing up in a tight-knit Korean-American family. The title piece is a meandering account of how Choi spent her 27th birthday: alone. All of her friends bailed on her, and her parents forgot to call. Then Choi moves to “Animals,” a meditation about her childhood and adolescent love of teddy bears, squishy lobsters and other stuffed animals. “Spelling B” is a light-hearted examination of her parents’ obsession with academic excellence: As Choi’s mother said, the parents’ job was to provide for their kids, and the kids’ job was to go to Harvard. Characteristically, this essay ends on a confusing note. Having recounted her less-than-triumphant performance in a school spelling bee, Choi—who holds an MFA from Columbia—describes her nightly study of “exotic and challenging words. My favorite was ytterbium. I wondered what it meant.” (Does she imagine that this sounds profound?) Throughout, the author focuses on common battles between girls and their mothers, arguments over clothes and diet. Unfortunately, in her hands, these fights are little more than trite set pieces. The titles of the essays are exceedingly cutesy—the reflection about the onset of Choi’s menses is called “Period Piece.” Still, there are a few redeeming moments. Choi’s meditation about her mother’s breast cancer is tender, and her discussion of the pressure she feels to get married is laugh-out-loud funny. Choi uses dialogue to good effect, though even that faint praise must be tempered, as her rendition of her mother’s broken English—“You make Mommy so tire!”—quickly gets old.

Lackluster.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-113222-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2006