Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Mambo in Chinatown

Mambo In Chinatown
by Jean Kwok

Why did you choose this book? I’ve heard good things about Girl in Translation
When did you read this book? May 2014
Who should read this book? readers who might like a modern day fairy tale
Source: Penguin First To Read
Here is a synopsis of Mambo in Chinatown from Penguin First To Read

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation comes a novel about a girl who transforms her perspective, expectations and sense of self as she moves from a lowly dishwasher up to an accomplished ballroom dancer.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
My Review

I wasn’t sure about this book when I got it. I’d heard good things about Girl in Translation, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was even thinking I’d made a mistake in picking this one up for the first few pages, but that lasted all of ten minutes! This one was so much fun! The best way I can describe this book is as a modern day fairy tale; a bit of The Ugly Duckling and a bit of Cinderella!

Charlie lives in Chinatown with her little sister and her father, but she might as well live in China! She lost her mother at a young age and her father is very protective of his girls. He speaks very little English, is uncomfortable outside of Chinatown, and does NOT want his girls to assimilate! Charlie’s eleven year old sister is smart and lovely...everything Charlie believes she is not! She works as a dishwasher in the restaurant where her father makes noodles because she has been fired from every other job she has had. But she is a hard worker and she loves her little sister, always working towards what is best for Lisa.

Lisa returns this affection and one day encourages Charlie to interview for a receptionist job at a dance studio. Charlie is apprehensive because not only does she know her father would forbid it, she has also been fired from other receptionist jobs due to ‘incompetence’. She is not very good at this one either, but one day she gets the chance to take a dance lesson at the studio, and this opens up a whole new world for Charlie. She is like Cinderella at the ball, discovering the grace and beauty she never knew she had! The descriptions of the dancing and costuming are so much fun! And almost all the characters are very likeable...except for the ones that aren’t supposed to be!

If I have any complaint at all about this one, it is that one little detail, the studio policy against teachers dating students, is wrapped up just a little too neatly. But that is a minor detail and does not detract from the magic of this fairy tale. Read this one if you love happy endings!

My Rating:  ★★★1/2   3-1/2 Stars

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Penguin First To Read program in return for an honest review.

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  1. Kim, I liked this one well-enough, but preferred her debut novel Girl in Translation more.

    1. I always meant to read this one, but never got to it. Maybe I should make time to read it.