ANGELFISH by Laurence Yep


Age Range: 8 - 12
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Robin, a half-Chinese, half-European ballet student, gets a lesson in modern Chinese history from a victim of the Cultural Revolution. In this new entry to the ballet series that includes Ribbons (1996), The Cook’s Family (1998), and The Amah (1999), Yep continues to explore the disjuncture between modern Chinese-American children and their heritage. When narrator Robin breaks the window of a tropical fish shop, she goes to work there in order to pay the replacement cost, fitting in work between school and rehearsals for her ballet school’s recital of Beauty and the Beast. The irascible manager of the shop is quite lame, but mysteriously knowledgeable about ballet for all his scorn of “bunheads,” and Robin soon learns that Mr. Cao was once Communist China’s most accomplished dancer, only to fall victim to the Red Guard’s brutality. Robin’s growing respect and affection for the old curmudgeon is set against the story of Beauty’s love for the Beast—a hackneyed device, and one that intrudes onto the narrative development of this intergenerational friendship. The story moves along at a brisk clip, comic moments sliding occasionally into slapstick, and then taking a turn to the serious—the relationship between Mr. Cao and Robin’s Russian ballet teacher is a truly touching meeting of battle-scarred Cold War veterans. Ultimately, Robin is herself relatively uninteresting, and the cultural tensions she alludes to never really come across to the reader. It is, nevertheless, an agreeably undemanding read with lots of ballet detail and peopled with memorable secondary characters. Middle-graders could do much worse. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-23041-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2001


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