Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
This bright, cute cover was just one of the reasons I picked up this book; another reason is the author, who is a friend of the blog, and a pretty sterling human being. Solidly in the category of a problem/solution novel for younger middle graders, this book is one of my favorite impulse-picks so far this summer.
Synopsis: Chloe Cho has lived in a very boring small town for most of her elementary school experience. Her father's pet store and her mother's work as an astrophysicist, Chloe feels could have happened anywhere but no, they choose to live in the dullest, most white-bread town, ever. There are no other Asians in their town. Certainly, no other Koreans. It's tiresome to be the only anything - and when Chloe's school gets a new teacher whose last name is Lee, Chloe is beyond excited. Finally, another Korean! Even better, Ms. Lee is open to Chloe exploring her Korean background and doing a Model UN project about South Korea.
Unfortunately, Ms. Lee is the only one who's excited about it. Chloe's parents are not. They would really prefer she concentrate on being ...an American. It's what the Chos are now, right? Americans?
Chloe is desperate not to feel like a fish-out-of-water anymore, and does all she can to learn, on her own, about who she is... but what do you do when you really are nothing like the people around you? How do you cope?
Observations: Okay, I did not see the plot twist in this novel coming. At all. Well done to the people who did the advertising. I was reading along, and said, "Wait, what? WHAT!?" So, that was excellent. Second, I wish that I'd had this novel when I was teaching the fifth grade, because we often talked about the deeper meanings behind the friendships we had, and the identities we had as human beings: as people of color or white people, as child people who were younger or older siblings or adult teachers and friends. This is a book about multiple identities - about having and losing and choosing them. Chloe is trying very hard to align the identity she has inhabited unknowingly with the identity she discovers, and this allows readers to consider the question, how much of who we are is simply who we choose to be?
All of us, school aged or elsewhere in life, have felt stupidly out of step with our peers, but not everyone weathers the realization that they're a square peg, and still comes out a ...shape on the other side, to really drag the metaphor out. ☺ Chloe, as she comes through this difficult time, fails to do so gracefully -- arguing with teachers, feuding with her best friend, and screaming at her parents as she struggles to balance being the Only in her community, and wondering if the love and support and position she's found for herself within the community is entirely false. The very realness of her reaction makes this story relatable to everyone, but I think it's especially relatable to kids who have been adopted or who are of mixed race in an environment where they are in the minority. Sometimes a minority person can wonder, "do people like me because they think that X - whatever is different about me - is cool? or is it truly me in which they're interested?" Chloe struggles with why her best friend actually likes her -- and her best friend has to explicitly explain to her why by leading her back through the situations they've been through together. This is the proof that an unbeliever needs to see that they are loved. More than that, Chloe and Shelley also model strong communication techniques that are the basis of what keep a relationship strong.
Conclusion: There so much I can't tell you about the narrative behind this book because that takes all the fun out of reading the story and discovering it for oneself - but this quiet, snarky, fun little book is a gateway and a bridge to some deeper conversations between adults and kids that a quiet summer afternoon seems the perfect time to delve into.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT by Mike Jung at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!