I met author Wai Chim at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in 2017. I didn’t just meet her, we were part of the same panel, called Writing About Us. She came for my book launch, a poorly attended event because I knew very few people there in Singapore, and the launch was tucked away in the basement. Don’t get me wrong. The basement was beautiful. It was the children’s library and the most stunning one I’ve seen. The problem was there was no way of getting people’s attention and having random passers-by attend.
Wai Chim came for the event, though, I remember, and I was touched. That year, another book of hers was available at the festival bookstore, Closetful of Books – Freedom Swimmer. I was struck by the idea of the story, but somehow, though it’s been on my list of books to read for a while, I never got around to reading it.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally bought The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – and it was brilliant. It began slowly, and I wondered if I would get sucked into the story. A couple of chapters down the line, I was gripped by the power of the characters.
The narrator Anna is always on the lookout for signs. Will today be a good day or a bad one? Will her mother get out of bed at all? What mood will she be in?
Through Anna, we see the instinct to hide anything we see as abnormal. We need to present normalcy to the world, and Anna, brought up as a good Chinese girl, albeit in Australia, must be obedient and respectful. She cannot find fault with her mother, even if it means managing the household on her own, and somehow taking care of her sister and brother. If, suddenly one night, her mother storms into her room and destroys her bluetooth speakers, it’s all right. If her mother’s anger is unpredictable and practically paranoid, it just means that it’s a bad day.
Their father, more often than not, says he has too much work at the restaurant and simply does not come home.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is powered by emotion. What does it mean to care for one’s family? How can Anna live up to everyone’s expectations of her? Why are they so many stereotypes?
When she meets Rory, Anna begins to find herself. She finds a part of her that recognises her discomfort with racism. Even so, she cannot find the words to talk about mental illness. She ploughs on, balancing her life with everything at home, trying to shelter her little brother Michael, figuring out how to start a conversation with her father about a relationship between her and Rory …
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a beautiful read, which makes your heart ache. How strange it is that our instincts teach us about shame and responsibility and everything that we must do! I was moved by the book, by the way the story progresses, weaving together hope, guilt, shame, love and much more.
|Title||The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling|
|Tags||YA, mental illness, emotion|
|Rating (out of 5)||4.5|