AN OCEAN APART, A WORLD AWAY

A determined Chinese girl pursues her dream of a medical education by leaving her family and attending a university in America in the early 1920s. A companion to Namioka’s Ties that Bind, Ties that Break (1999), this opens with Yanyan’s journey to Shanghai to bid farewell to the earlier novel’s heroine as she embarks for San Francisco. The journey sets up the character’s central conflict: even as she envies her friend for her opportunities, she finds herself attracted to a charismatic friend of her Elder Brother’s, and finds that she must choose between her personal ambitions and her admirer. A melodramatic plot twist aids her choice—her admirer turns out to be part of a conspiracy to return the Manchu emperor to the throne—and off she goes to Cornell, where she encounters cultural difficulties aplenty. While the first-person narration is burdened by awkward historical summaries (“After our defeat in the Second Opium War, various countries discovered how weak China really was”), Yanyan’s struggles in the US are compelling. A patronizing student adviser tries to steer her toward home economics and away from physics (“Here at Cornell, we teach young ladies all the womanly arts in order to make them proper wives and mothers”). At the Chinese laundry, she is mistaken for an employee; when corrected, the customer says, “Well, I’ll be doggoned! I did hear there were Chinks at the university.” Despite these narrative flaws, Yanyan emerges as a highly sympathetic character for whom the reader will find herself rooting as she picks her way through her internal doubts and the obstacles set before her by both Chinese and American cultures. An author’s note provides some background on a particularly exciting and turbulent time in Chinese history. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: June 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-73002-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a...

THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY

Han’s leisurely paced, somewhat somber narrative revisits several beach-house summers in flashback through the eyes of now 15-year-old Isabel, known to all as Belly. 

Belly measures her growing self by these summers and by her lifelong relationship with the older boys, her brother and her mother’s best friend’s two sons. Belly’s dawning awareness of her sexuality and that of the boys is a strong theme, as is the sense of summer as a separate and reflective time and place: Readers get glimpses of kisses on the beach, her best friend’s flirtations during one summer’s visit, a first date. In the background the two mothers renew their friendship each year, and Lauren, Belly’s mother, provides support for her friend—if not, unfortunately, for the children—in Susannah’s losing battle with breast cancer. Besides the mostly off-stage issue of a parent’s severe illness there’s not much here to challenge most readers—driving, beer-drinking, divorce, a moment of surprise at the mothers smoking medicinal pot together. 

The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a diversion. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6823-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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