Happy Monday, guys!
Today, we're sharing our review of Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung.
I pretty much knew I'd like the book going into it - I was lucky enough to hear a reading by Mike, and I knew the general premise of the book - was still delighted at just how relatable and timely the book felt to me.
Read on for more!
Expected publication: April 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic (first published 2016)
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Chloe Choe is a clever, likable and highly relatable character, and Jung has written a novel that likely strike a warm, appreciative chord with readers everywhere.
The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who's Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She's had it with people thinking that everything she does well -- getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera -- are because she's ASIAN.
Of course, her own parents don't want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It's only when Chloe's with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn't feel like a total alien.
Then a new teacher comes to town: Ms. Lee. She's Korean American, and for the first time Chloe has a person to talk to who seems to understand completely. For Ms. Lee's class, Chloe finally gets to explore her family history. But what she unearths is light-years away from what she expected.
Now that you've been suitably warned, let's get on with the review! Jung returns to middle grade fiction in his sophomore novel, with the funny, highly relatable tale of Chloe Cho, the only Korean-American student in her her small town.
While she's done fairly well with this fact for most of her life, a new teacher and an unexpected assignment send Chloe down a path to discovering her heritage, in the strangest and most unexpected of places.
Ok. So there are so many things I loved about this book, but let's start with the most obvious one: I loved the fact that Chloe is Korean-American, and darned proud of it. She likes K-Pop, cooks Korean food, and isn't afraid to call people out on their incorrect assumptions about her culture, including occasionally annoying comparisons to other Asian-Americans of note.
(Chloe, girl - you and I have the latter in common.)
Jung does a nice job of showing how Chloe's interest in Korean-American culture is genuinely an immersive one, and how her decision to actively seek out parts of her culture anchors her to a broader identity that better allows her understand who she is, and her specific place in the world. It's a thoughtful reminder on how human nature is very centered on the idea of growth by societal influence, and how that growth can often be skewed depending on the dynamic and makeup of said society around one's self.
Consequently, it's hardly surprising that Chloe immediately latches onto new teacher Ms. Lee, and everything that Ms. Lee represents. Though it's more of an underlying theme, Jung is adept at showing at we - especially as youngsters - try to find role models in not only authority figures, but also figures who physically look like us. It's a mentality that I haven't really considered in awhile, and it's nice to see how Chloe works through her interest in trying to impress Ms. Lee.
Though Ms. Lee's influence leads Chloe to make a surprising (and honestly, hilarious) discovery about her heritage, Jung makes the smart decision of playing down the more unusual ramifications of said discovery. Instead, he smartly breaks it down as just another aspect of Chloe's quest to seek further understanding of her identity, and reaffirms the idea that even though it's nice to appreciate our differences, it's also nice to be accepted for what we contribute, verses what we're made up of, or who we are.
Stylistically, Jung writes with a breezy confidence that absolutely nails Chloe's young, occasionally petulant voice and personality. I could absolutely understand just where she was coming from even when she was being a brat, and Jung deserves props for capturing that uncertain, but memorable time of growing up.
Without giving spoilers away, Jung ends the book a perfect note. It's not only a nod to the bigger elements of the book, but also a recognition that sometimes, it really IS nice to find family and those whom you share something deeper with. It ties all the themes and plotlines in the book together nicely, and I only wish we could have a sequel!
While I was lucky to have grown up in a family that did celebrate our Asian heritage and also lived in a city where there were many classmates of Asian descent, I still struggled with my Asian-ness in a primarily Caucasian world.
So to know that June has written a book that will not only be appreciated by those who have been in my position, but also younger generations to come, is reassuring and awesome. Highly recommend for all readers, full stop.
About the author:
Mike Jung is the author of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities and contributed to the anthologies Dear Teen Me, Break These Rules, and 59 Reasons to Write. He is a library professional by day, a writer by night, and a semi-competent ukulele player during all the times in between. Mike is proud to be a founding member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife and two young children. Find Mike at mikejung.com.