Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Dream, Annie, Dream

 Brown, Waka T. Dream, Annie, Dream
January 25, 2022 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aoi Inoue lives in Kansas in the 1980s. Her parents moved there from Japan, and her father is now the head of a math department at a small college. She and her best friend, Jessie (who now goes by Jessica), are spening the summer at a theater camp, and Aoi has decided to go by Annie, since people struggle so much with the pronunciation of her name. The camp is doing a production of Annie, and even though Annie is a better performer, the title role goes to Jessica, who "looks the part". Jessica's family is much better off, and her mother, while nice, pushes her daughter. Annie enjoys the production, and decides to continue with her acting, although her mother doesn't quite approve. When school starts, Annie struggles a bit in the classroom, especially in math with Mrs. Olds, who is old, strict, and doesn't make math fun. Annie struggles with some allergies to the family's cat, and ends up getting allergy shots, which cut into her schedule. She also joins the basketball team, which she enjoys. There is a plya put on with the high school, The King and I, and Annie gets a good role as dancer in an important scene, and does well. She also meets a high school boy who is half Japanese, and Annie's mother is glad to make friends with his mother. Jessica claims that Annie got the role only because she is Asian, and the girls' already fragile relationship starts to unravel. There are a number of microaggressions with which Annie has to deal at school, from Jessica's barbs, to Mrs. Olds' casual sexism, to a well liked teacher who doesn't correct a student who says disparaging things about Japan's involvement in World War II. When her class at school decides to put on the play Alice in Wonderland, and have a writing contest for the dramatization, Annie is thrilled, since she is always rereading the book. Jessica tells her she can't be Alice because she doesn't look the part. Will the school, and a visting Hollywood director, be more progressive?
Strengths: Friend drama is always a popular topic in middle grade books, and Jessica and Annie's fraught relationship will pull readers in. There are enough 80's details to put the societal and racial situation clear. Annie's family background was very interesting; her mother was a flight attendant who met her father when he was traveling to the US for school. There was an interesting dynamic with the father sending money home to Japan, and the mother not being too wild about it. Readers who want to read about theater will enjoy all of the machinations leading up to the various productions. There is a great note at the back about the problems of older plays which should be taken very seriously. Our local community theater put on a production of Oklahoma in the summer of 2021, and I was APPALLED. There should be a list of shows that everyone agrees should be either retired or completely reworked, and The King and I would definitely be right up there, along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Show Boat.
Weaknesses: While I understand that Mrs. Olds' was supposed to be a bad guy, her portrayal was odd and didn't make Annie seem sympathetic. Annie immediately dislikes her and describes her in a very harsh way, before Mrs. Olds' even does anything. Annie's poor grades are blamed on the teacher's racism and sexism, but Annie hasn't turned in a LOT of work. I could see the direction Brown was trying to take with this character, but it never gelled for me. It doesn't help that Annie would probably see me in the exact same light, with my (quotes from the E ARC) "faded, grayish brown curly cap of frizz", "drab "teacher clothes'", and my "prim collar buttoned all the way to the top, and even fastened with a cameo brooch to double/triple ensure that- God forbid- she show part of her neck. Her face was wrinkled, like an apple left out in the sun too long." There's nothing that I can do about the wrinkles in my face, but this doesn't automatically make me an evil, racist person.
What I really think: Theater books don't circulate well in my library at all, and this is a bit similar to Shang and Rosenberg's Not Your All-American Girl and Yamile's On These Magic Shores. I really liked this author's While I Was Away, but it also has not circulated as well as I would have liked, leading me to think that the cover art isn't too appealing.

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