Yep, Laurence. 2001.
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.