Review: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim
Wai Chim's recent #ownvoices novel stars Anna Chiu, a Chinese-Australian teenager and eldest daughter in a family afflicted by mental illness. Anna has cared for her younger siblings for as long as she can remember, never straying far from her expected role of the “good daughter”. Struggling with mounting pressures of getting good grades at school and maintaining peace within the family, she chooses to help her father at his restaurant, where he spends most of his time. In this unlikeliest of places, she finds first love and renewed hope for a normal life . . . until her mother's mental illness deteriorates.
Interspersed throughout the novel are engaging allusions to Chinese culture, customs, Cantonese language and food (yes, there are dumplings!). Readers, particularly Asians, will laugh and nod their heads in solidarity. In a timely fashion, Chim highlights the subtlety of racial microaggressions against Asians and other minority groups in Australia. When Anna falls for the cute Anglo-Saxon delivery boy at her father's restaurant, she faces discrimination from outsiders. The challenges of interracial relationships will resonate with modern audiences.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is an authentic, warm, and relevant exploration of race, mental illness, first love, friendship, and the meaning of family. Chim has created an important voice in YA literature. Her novel shines a spotlight on the harrowing impacts and stigma of mental illness in an Asian family. This hopeful story exemplifies the unbreakable bonds of family, even in adversity.
Cass Chu @_wordsonpaper is a Chinese-Australian nurse with an insatiable hunger for travel and stories. She is happiest with her nose stuck in a book, upside down on a pole, or simply walking in nature.