MAMBO IN CHINATOWN by Jean Kwok

MAMBO IN CHINATOWN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Kwok (Girl in Translation, 2010), another story about a plucky young Chinese-American woman whose hard work transports her out of poverty and hidebound traditions to find love and success.

At 22, having been fired for ineptness from numerous jobs, ABC (American Born Chinese) Charlie Wong works as a dishwasher in the restaurant where her dad is a noodle maker without peer. Unlike 11-year-old Lisa, Charlie’s younger sister, who is an ace student adored by all, Charlie didn't do well in school academically or socially. And unlike her long-dead mother, who was a ballerina with the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to America, Charlie seems completely lacking in grace except when practicing tai chi. But Charlie dreams of escaping the narrow confines of New York’s Chinatown, where she must live according to her father’s Old World rules and customs, which include a reliance on traditional Chinese medicine as practiced by his brother Henry; Lisa works after school in Uncle Henry's office as Charlie did before she proved too clumsy. Then Charlie answers a want ad and (a little too) miraculously is hired as a receptionist at Avery Studios, a respected uptown ballroom-dance studio. Although her receptionist skills are lacking, Charlie is in heaven around the dancers. Soon, the studio’s owner, Adrienne, recognizes Charlie's dormant talent as a dancer and, after the briefest training, hires her to teach the beginners class. Charlie is quickly caught up in learning a syllabus of dances and is even encouraged to enter a major competition. She’s also falling for not one, but two handsome men. But all is not well back in Chinatown, where Mr. Wong, who has no idea about his daughter’s secret uptown life, tries to find her a husband. And Lisa comes down with a mysterious ailment while preparing to take the entrance exam for prestigious Hunter High School. 

It’s a shame that Kwok lets the end fall apart—rushing through a clichéd, melodramatic revelation that resolves way too easily—since much of Charlie’s Cinderella story, not to mention Charlie herself, is charming.

Pub Date: June 24th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59463-200-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2014




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