In this coming-of-age story, 16-year-old David Chang finds that striking a balance between his dreams and his heritage is harder than striking the right chord on a guitar.
Lee (The Fragrant Garden, 2005) writes her first teen novel from the perspective of a Montreal boy who wants nothing more than to become a rock ’n’ roll legend like John Lennon or Carlos Santana. He imagines them cheering on his guitar practices from their posters on his bedroom wall. But his real-life circumstances aren’t so encouraging. His dad, a second-generation Chinese immigrant who now works at a grocery store after losing a high-paying job, has plunged the family into debt by gambling. David’s relationship with his band, Pumping Iron, is strained after he makes a mistake that takes them out of a major competition. To make matters worse, his parents don’t want him to be a musician; expecting him to become a “professional”—i.e., a lawyer or doctor—they stop paying for his guitar lessons to save money. David resents his dad for losing the family’s money and for getting in the way of his dream. But as he struggles to keep playing in spite of all the obstacles, he finds that he and his father have more in common than he thought. Throughout the story, a lively narration brings Montreal and its Chinese subculture to life through the young protagonist’s eyes. The Chang family is made up of well-rounded, believable characters who really love each other but often let mistakes and lack of communication disrupt their relationships. David’s problems with friends, girls, and his parents’ expectations will also ring true for many teen readers. There are a few times when the story does stretch the bounds of belief: David’s grandmother, for example, always speaks Chinese, so Lee’s decision to translate her dialogue into broken English makes little sense, and some of the secrets the characters keep from each other seem to exist only to create conflict. Yet the book’s main themes of family and love drown out all the off notes.
A joyful teen drama told with soul and style.