Wednesday, June 22, 2022

In the Beautiful Country

Kuo, Jane. In the Beautiful Country
June 14th 2022 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Zhangs decide to move to the US in the 1980s because they feel there are more opportunities. The father has a friend who is running a business, and goes ahead of the family to ready things, but the friend no longer wants to share the business. The father finds a fast food restaurant in Duarta, a small town on the outskirts of LA, and Ai Shi (Anna) longs to join him. She and her mother say their goodbyes in Taipei, Taiwan, and are soon on their way to the US with six pieces of luggage. Anna is a bit disappointed in the quiet, dusty town, but has high hopes. School is hard, since her English needs some work. There are some kind students, but there are more unkind ones, and she struggles. The hours at the restaurant are long for her parents, and her mother often feels the brunt of people who are unkind because of her own language barriers. The family does take a bus to a neighboring community to attend a Chinese church; Anna's father had come from China to Taiwan to attend university, but had gotten caught in a political struggle and was never able to make it back. The familes there at least look like the Zhangs, but are more well-to-do, and the parents don't want them to know that their business is struggling. Not only are there few customers, but there are some obnoxious teens who spill salt and ketchup on the tables and are suspected of throwing bricks through the windows. This is a stressful and expensive occurrence, and the police say they are helpless. Luckily, Terry, who works in a nearby grocery, befriends the family and gets her husband to warn the teens off. She also invites Anna to a sleepover and treats her to a visit to Disney with her own daughters, an event which gives Anna a lot of hope. The parents determine to sell the restaurant and go back home, but things start to look up a bit, especially after they incorporate some Taiwanese dishes into their menu, and they decide to stay. 
Strengths: Verse novels have become a bit more popular in my library this year, and Anna's story will resonate with readers who enjoyed Jude's Syria to Cincinnati move in Warga's Other Words for Home. The details about moving to a new country, missing family, setting up a new existance, navigating school, and struggling with a business were all very interesting. The small town was vividly depicted, and while the destructive teens were horrible, it was good to see that Terry and her family were supportive. 
Weaknesses: There are not a lot of 1980s details, so I almost wish it were set today, since immigrant families still have the same kinds of challenges, and I don't want my readers to think this sort of experience is limited only to the distant past.
What I really think: This ended a bit abruptly, but it was a good story. It's still a valuable book, so I will purchase a copy. I just really would have liked to know more about Anna's experiences. Comparisons to Yang's Front Desk are apt due to similar businesses, time period, and Asian origins. It also felt a bit like Amos' new Cookies and Milk. I'd love to hear the stories of some of the other families from church whose parents are doctors or academicians. 

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment