First the good news: Half the pieces in this uneven anthology are standouts.
The Korean-American teen in David Yoo’s story makes an unwanted, undeserved Asian “model minority” label work for him, acquiring unexpected life skills in the process. The sole black student at a Vermont boarding school is unsettled when black twin sisters also enroll in Varian Johnson’s nuanced tale. Gene Luen Yang’s graphic anecdote demonstrates how standing up for one’s beliefs can yield rewards beyond self-esteem. Luis’ siblings give him permission and support to transcend cultural constraints and be himself in Francisco X. Stork’s gentle tale. Naomi Shihab Nye’s wistful, bittersweet poem “Lexicon” looks at the power of words to unite or separate, exemplified by her Palestinian father and his fading hopes for peace. The remaining pieces are significantly weaker. Perkins salutes the value of lightening up in her introduction: “Conversations about race can be so serious, right? People get all tense or touchy.” She offers ground rules: Good humor pokes fun at the powerful, not the weak; builds affection for the “other”; and is usually self-deprecatory. Yet too few pieces here reflect those rules or appear to have been conceived as humor. Undisclosed selection criteria, author bios that don’t always speak to identity, and weak and dated content are problematic. The sweeping racial and cultural judgments and hostile—occasionally mean-spirited—tones of several pieces disappoint; angry venting may be justified and therapeutic, but it’s seldom funny.
Leaves readers with more questions than answers. (Anthology. 12 & up)