Tan’s narratives often critique traditional office culture; this one features the inhumane treatment of the protagonist, a cicada dressed in a four-armed gray suit, complete with tie and pocket square.
Oriented vertically, the insect does not reach the top of his human co-workers’ desks, thus skewing the perspective so their heads are not visible. The green data entry clerk works in a gray maze of cubicles. Despite his exceptional performance and strong work ethic, he must walk blocks to a bathroom and is physically bullied. Readers will recognize forms of marginalization throughout, i.e., the elevator buttons are too high, poverty forces residency in the office wall. Cicada language is primitive and rhythmic: “Seventeen year. No promotion. / Human resources say cicada not human. / Need no resources. / Tok Tok Tok!” The last line is a refrain following each brief description, suggesting both the sound of a clock (time passing) and the notion of cicada “talk.” Upon retiring, he ascends the long stairway to the skyscraper’s ledge. The oil paintings of shadowy, cramped spaces transition to a brightened sky; a split in Cicada’s body reveals a molten glow. An orange-red winged nymph emerges and joins a sky full of friends flying to the forest, where they have the last laugh. No Kafkaesque conclusion here; metamorphosis brings liberation and joy.
Simultaneously sobering and uplifting, it will lead thoughtful readers to contemplate othering in their own lives. (Picture book. 12-adult)