Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Cho, John. Troublemaker
March 22nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's 1992, and Jordan has had some trouble in school recently. Having come from Korea, he and his family run a convenience store, and his older sister Sarah excels at school. His Umma, Appa, and Harabeoji (mother, father and grandfather), have high expectations for him as well, but he keeps messing up. He's just been suspended from school for cheating on a Spanish quiz (after a long line of similar instances), he is friends with some kids who are often in trouble, and he's had a nasty fight with his father, who is now avoiding him. When he comes home from school and finds Umma at home, he's worried. There are riots in LA because of the Rodney King verdict, and the family store is far too close to where this is happening. Umma says not to worry, but Jordan is afraid for his father, especially since he doesn't have a gun. The recent shooting of a young girl, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean store owner has caused his father to lock up the weapon at home and tell Jordan not to touch it. Jordan decides that the way to mend things with Appa is to take the gun to the store for him. He doesn't tell Umma, but gets a ride from a friend. It's not a great time to be out, at night, with riots happening nearby, and Jordan and his friends don't make the best choices. Will he be able to get to his father before something terrible happens?

A close knit, supportive family like Jordan's is always good to see, and his relationship with his sister is especially charming. Even though he makes bad choices, he doesn't want to disappoint anyone, but doesn't understand how worried about him Sarah is. She feels it is her responsiblity to keep him safe, something her parents have inculcated in her from a young age. Jordan's fight with his father, and the lingering silence and resentment, along with bad feelings, is something many middle grade readers will relate to. 

The history of almost thirty years ago is especially poignant set against the continuing racial problems the US is facing. The Rodney King beating and its ramifications has come up in the news over the past two years after George Floyd's death, so young readers might have some passing knowledge of it and appreciate seeing how circumstances were different in 1992... and how they have regretfully stayed the same. 

There have been a growing number of excellent books by authors of Asian descent about different facets of the Asian American experience likeYang's Front Desk, but it's good to see more books specifically about the Korean American experience, such as Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung, Yun's Pippa Park Raises Her Game, Park's Prarie Lotus, and Ahn's Krista Kim-Bap. Readers who enjoy recent historical books or have an interest in racial justice will find Troublemaker an intriguing title. 

I would have liked to see more decade specific details, and more information about the historical event of the Rodney King beating and its fallout would help young readers who didn't live through this time period. Jordan's misbehavior didn't seem to have much of a reason behind it, and his motivation to take the gun to his father didn't quite click. This was a perfectly serviceable novel, but I had higher hopes for the setting and topic.

Ms. Yingling

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