Title // The Surprising Power Of A Good Dumpling
Author // Wai Chim
Publisher // Scholastic Press
Publication Date // November 10, 2020
Synopsis // An authentic novel about growing up in a migrant Asian family with a mother who is suffering from a debilitating mental illness.
Anna Chiu has her hands full. When she’s not looking after her brother and sister or helping out at her father’s restaurant, she’s taking care of her mother, whose debilitating mental illness keeps her in bed most days. Her father’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could be a normal teen.
But when her mother finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as her mother’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a heart-wrenching, true-to-life exploration through the often neglected crevices of culture, mental illness, and family. Its strong themes are balanced by a beautiful romance making it a feel-good, yet important read.
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5)
Many thanks to the publisher, Scholastic, for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
(also note this is my first ever ARC from Scholastic and I squealed so hard when it arrived because scholastic books were my childhood haha I’ve made it I’ve peaked)
I first saw this book floating around the book community when it was first published in Australia last fall, and was intrigued, so I am so, so happy that it’s being published in the United States now so so many more readers (like myself!) can read this incredible, touching, moving novel. I also really enjoyed the setting, as this is the first time I’ve ever read about the Australian school system, and it was interesting to see the similarities and differences from the US high schools I’m sure we’ve all read in a million contemporaries.
I have to say, a large part of the reason I wanted to read this book may have to be because I adore dumplings, and I know that a good dumpling certainly does have a surprising power haha. Anyways, in terms of the food, I was not disappointed! Anna’s family owns a Chinese restaurant, and there were some truly mouth watering descriptions of all the food they make! I got especially hungry at the description of eating xiaolongbao, amazing soup dumplings and my all time favorite food!
This book really tackled mental health, and it did it so well in such a powerful, moving way. Anna’s mama has a deliberating mental health condition, and it impacts her and her family in such a strong way. Anna has to step up and care for her siblings and family, which cuts into her time to do other extracurriculars, making her feel like she can’t be a normal kid. She has a lot of stress from this, especially as she feels that she must keep it to herself and can’t tell anyone or trust anyone with this; she doesn’t want people to know she’s not “normal” or her mom is “crazy.”
The book also really showed the stigma that mental health issues can carry, especially for Asians. Anna and her family, especially her dad, want to hide the issue, and they and others think that mental health issues are something to be hidden and ashamed of. This book really shows the harsh realities of mental illnesses and how we address them, and how they can have such a huge impact on lives of so many. It definitely has some hard dark moments, but there are also moments of hope, showing that it can get better, it just may not be easy.
There were strong family themes that I really appreciated. Anna is always looking out for her younger siblings, and they have some touching moments between them, particularly when she and her sister together protect their little brother. There are also moments of tension, particularly caused by the hard home situation, where they argue and get really frustrated, but I could always tell they really loved and cared for each other. The book also showed how important family is, particularly when Anna’s baba seems to put his job and restaurant in front of his family, which makes Anna wonder shouldn’t family be his job?
Anna also struggled with being a good filial Chinese daughter, living up to her parents high expectations, doing well in school, helping out with the restaurant, and taking care of her family. She experiences a lot of guilt for not being the perfect daughter, and struggles with placing her own self and interests with those of her family.
I really liked the ownvoices Chinese rep in this book. As the daughter of immigrants, Anna speaks and understands broken Cantonese, but can’t read or write it, which is extremely relatable, as this is literally me with Mandarin, and I know it’s very common for young disaporic Asians. I really related to her feelings of guilt at not being to speak it better, and I liked the authentic way Cantonese was woven seamlessly into the book, and there were descriptions where sometimes depending on the situation (like not wanting to be overheard), the characters switched easily between languages.
There were also talk of many things that Asian Australians have to face that are very similar to Asian Americans. For example, there are talk of micro-aggressions, assuming all Asians are the same (nihao lol), and characters wanting to be able to speak their native language with people. Anna also felt like an authentic Asian teen, and not an old person writing a teen who forgot what a teen is like lmao. I loved her talking about using different social medias (everyone has fb but only for messenger haha), comparing the idea of Asia to Crazy Rich Asians (same), and referring to groups as bananas, fobs, weebs… which may be slightly racist but everyone does it anyways…
The last thing I wanted to mention is the romance, which I’m conflicted on. On one hand it’s super adorable and cute, and I loved seeing these two characters interact together! On the other hand, Anna is 16 and is with a 20 year old and… yes Anna is mature for her age and had to grow up fast, but there’s still a huge maturity gap there as she’s a kid and he’s a literal adult and idk about Australia but that relationship would be illegal here in the USA sooo…. so that’s why I’m taking off half a star and giving this book 4.5 instead of 5. But overall a really good book I highly recommend!
Do you like dumplings? Have you read any books set in Australia? Do you want to read this book now? I’d love to chat in the comments below ❤