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Multicultural Literature for Youth

Asian Pac. Am. Lit #2

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angelfish.jpg

Yep, Laurence. 2001. Angelfish. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 0-399-23041-6.

 

This is the fourth book in Yep’s series about Robin, who is a half Chinese American, half European American teen-ager; a devoted ballet dancer; and a curious person by nature.  Robin has just been assigned the role of Beauty in her ballet school’s recital, and she is ecstatic.  Kidding around with friends after ballet class, Robin accidentally breaks the window of a tropical fish store. To pay for the expensive window, she agrees to work for the store for three months. The store manager, Mr. Cao, seems like a beast, and readers see parallels between the ballet and real life throughout the novel. Despising music, ballet, and possibly even Robins’s half-Chinese status, Mr. Cao, is gruff, critical, and insulting. Yet he seems to know a great deal about ballet, although he walks with a severe limp. Motivated by Mr. Cao’s kind moments and her curiosity, Robin and her Chinese grandmother conduct informal detective work to learn about Mr. Cao’s past. Following amusing scenes in a Chinese neighborhood, Robin discovers that Mr. Cao was a star in the Chinese ballet until he was treated brutally during the Cultural Revolution. Robin helps her beast to “thaw” his heart, and Mr. Cao ends up helping with her recital when her Russian ballet teacher becomes seriously ill.

 

Overall, this is a likeable book with several strong, believable characters and interesting details about ballet, Chinese-American life, and the Cultural Revolution. The story flows well, and while the ending is not a complete surprise, readers are still anxious to see what happens. Mr. Cao and Robin’s grandmother are the feistiest, most well-developed characters. Robin is somewhat three-dimensional, but her main role seems to be to bring out other characters, especially Mr. Cao. One reviewer writes, “Ultimately, Robin is herself relatively uninteresting” (Kirkus Reviews, 2001). Some of the plot seems contrived, especially the ballet teacher’s sickness and the “overly happy” ending. Also, Mr. Cao’s transformation from beast might happen a little too quickly. However, despite its flaws, the book is “an agreeably undemanding read with lots of ballet detail and peopled with memorable secondary characters” ((Kirkus Reviews, 2001).

 

Yep includes a number of cultural markers including names, language, skin color, facial features, close extended families, a closely networked community, manners, and food. He does not address music, religion, celebrations, dress, homes, architecture, or forms of address. Many characters have Chinese names such as Mr. Cao (spelled Tsow in the early part of the story), Ah Wing, and Mrs. Chin. Robin has light skin, brown hair, and green eyes, so she often speaks Cantonese to let Chinese people know she is one of them. Robin seems to feel closer to her grandmother than her parents, and she spends much time at her grandmother’s house. When Grandmother meets her old friends, she begins with small talk because getting right to the point would be rude in Chinese culture. When Aunt Ruby treats the Robin to lunch in a Chinese restaurant, the older woman orders “a northern-style lunch” with more wheat than the southern cuisine (113).

 

This book will appeal to children ages 9 and up who have an interest in ballet or Chinese American culture. Fans of the series also will welcome Yep’s latest addition, although one does not need to have read the other titles to enjoy Angelfish.