Ava Ling Magee, a college freshman at Davison University, struggles with her mixed-race heritage and a ruthless and controlling parent in Stoffers’ debut for teens.
When Ava arrives at the dorms, she’s greeted with a typical question: “Who’s Chinese? Your mom or dad?” Her response? “Neither.” It’s a bald-faced lie, as Ava is Chinese on her mother’s side and Caucasian on her dad’s. For most of her life, Ava has felt split between two worlds, unable to feel either Chinese enough or white enough. Worse, Mei physically and verbally abuses Ava (using both English and Mandarin obscenities freely), while her dad buries himself in work. Daring to major in English, not cellular biology, Ava finds a mentor in Professor Chen, whose hair features multicolored streaks and who encourages Ava to see herself in valuable ways. Another discovery, her Chinese grandmother’s diary, written during China’s Cultural Revolution, may hold treasured insights that could heal Ava’s present. While the author shines in some moments, notably with Professor Chen and Lao lao’s diary, her prose would benefit from hearty and tough-love doses of pruning. The inclusion of Ava’s parents’ back story and narrative shifts to their perspectives detract from Ava, as she’s whole enough to carry the book. Complex racial-identity themes run deep; though overdone at times, they nonetheless expose many of the challenges of being biracial. As an alternative means of exploring these themes, readers may prefer The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson (2011), written for a slightly younger audience.
Provocative themes help to mitigate textual infelicities. (Fiction. 16 & up)