Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Year of the Dog

Lin, Grace. 2006. The Year of the Dog. New York: Little Brown.

The Year of the Dog is a short chapter book for younger J readers. Loosely autobiographical, Lin tells the story of one year in Pacy (Grace, to her schoolmates) Lin's life, the Chinese Year of the Dog. Lin's year begins appropriately on the Chinese New Year holiday, the lucky year of the dog. And indeed, the years begins with luck as another Chinese American girl moves into Pacy's upstate New York neighborhood, and the two girls become fast friends.

At first, I read the book waiting for the "big event," the problem moment, the other shoe to drop. But the other shoe doesn't drop; instead, the book is a largely upbeat and realistic look at the everyday issues facing a middle-school aged girl. There is one incident in which Pacy is called a "Twinkie," yellow on the outside/white on the inside, too American to be Chinese/too Chinese to be American. Even Pacy isn't sure if she should call herself Taiwanese or Chinese. It's confusing, but not overwhelming. By and large, the book is a positive look at the life of a young Taiwanese American with a loving family and a good friend. Sprinkled throughout are stories within a story; Grace's mother relates memories from her own childhood as a first generation immigrant. Also adding interest are Lin's numerous pen and ink sketches.

Interesting facts about Chinese culture are interspersed throughout the book and the reader will learn a great deal about life as a Chinese American. The melding of the two cultures is dealt with in a humorous manner. When Grace has a sharp pain in her neck, her mother tells her grandmother.

"'Ah,' Grandma nodded her head at me wisely, 'I know. I fix!'" Grandma takes out a silk box with paints and brush and paints Chinese characters on Grace's neck. "'Leave and tiger will chase pig,' she told me. 'Running will help neck.'"

Grandma has painted the Chinese characters for "tiger" and "pig" on the back of Grace's neck.

She later asks her mother, "'Will the paint come off? ... I don't want to go to school with 'pig' written on my neck!' 'I'm sure it will,' Mom said, 'but does your neck feel better?'"

She thinks for a moment. "'Well, yeah,' I nodded, 'it does!'"

The Lin's fill their New Year's candy bowl with Chinese candy mixed with M&Ms; and for Thanksgiving, Mom relents and cooks a small turkey to go alongside the glassy rice noodles, fried shrimp, and meaty dumplings.

The book concludes with a Reader's Guide (questions appropriate for a book discussion), and a sneak peek at the next book in the series, Year of the Rat (Jan 2008).

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