In this story based on historical accounts of the 1870s Chinese Educational Mission, a young Chinese boy tries to balance filial obligation and American culture as he adapts to life in Connecticut.
Woo Ka-Leong and his older brother, Woo Ka-Sun, are among 120 boys sent to the United States by the Chinese government to learn English, obtain a Western education, and eventually return to help modernize China. While American railroads and the potential for adventure thrill Ka-Leong, Ka-Sun is wary of the people and customs. These tendencies only deepen as the brothers adjust to their host family and the onslaught of strange experiences—too-sweet pancakes for breakfast, a female teacher, and that curious game, baseball. Disappointingly, Yang troubles a timeless story of immigration and assimilation with inconsistencies. The text’s mixed references to Ka-Sun as “Elder Brother,” “Woo Ka-Sun,” “Carson,” and, well into the story, “Ah-Goh” unnecessarily addle the telling. Chinese usage is also uneven: although the boys come from the Cantonese-speaking Guangdong region, the transliteration sometimes uses Mandarin words (“li,” “changpao,” baozi,”), and italicization appears somewhat scattershot . Most strange, though, is Yang’s decision to turn Ka-Sun into a cartoonish villain. Certainly, shock and resistance are understandable responses to significant cultural change, but this account forgoes realistic exploration of that and opts instead for lurid drama.
Though it highlights a worthy subject, this pitch is overthrown. (Historical fiction. 10-14)