Review: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
Wai Chim's latest YA is a tempting hot pot of teenage coming-of-age angst, family values, cultural cohesion, mental health oh and yes, dumplings! This is a hearty, satisfying read about Anna, the eldest child in a Chinese immigrant family who rely on the family restaurant to survive. That premise alone could have been redolent with cultural stereotypical clichés however Chim has blended Anna's story with the careful addition of a host of interesting and authentic ingredients; characters like, Rory, who is the local delivery boy for the restaurant and also, ultimately Anna's first love and saviour.
As Anna trudges through her 11th year in High School, she is repeatedly put upon to keep the home fires burning for her younger tween sister, Lily and 6-year-old baby brother, Michael. Their overworked father is rarely at home, dossing in the restaurant storeroom under a cover of avoidance.
Perhaps the character that both disturbs and delights the most is Ma, Anna's mother whose typical tiger-mother Chinese reactions are tarnished by a crippling anxiety condition that effectively removes her from their lives as surely as if she were living in another country.
Anna's own reactions are directed by her anxieties to be as 'normal' as possible and governed by her superstitious interpretations of all the 'signs' around her. It's a self-combusting combination that comes to a head after their mother is finally committed. Make sure you have a few tissues on hand as Anna gradually comes to realise the true essence of normal and love.
|Xiao Long Bau - Shanghainese Soup Dumpling (my personal favourite!)|
I love the gentle way Anna's revelation is made in this story and how mental wellness is respectfully addressed; it is somehow so full of healthy conviction, real hurt and powerful hope. Good dumplings may not fix everything and in life you may 'dim sum and lose sum!’ (sorry), but as in many cultures, the making, sharing and cherishing of good food, is at the heart of a strong family and healthy community.