Dragon Chica

May-Lee Chai, Gemma (Ingram, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-934848-48-7
In Chai's coming-of-age novel, 11-year-old Nea, who survived the Khmer Rouge with her scrappy mother, beautiful older sister, and younger siblings, leaves Texas for Nebraska to work in the Chinese restaurant owned by her auntie and uncle. But the miracle she'd hoped for is crushed upon arrival: auntie and uncle, once wealthy, are now struggling, and the locals are more bigoted than they were in Texas. It's the 1980s and the Japanese takeover of the U.S. auto industry looms large; though Nea is Chinese and Cambodian, she's still Asian, and treated as "other." Her relentlessly dour life is only occasionally broken by evocatively disquieting, often painful, dreams, memories, and myths that bring shifts in tone readers will welcome. Chai previously mined her own experience for the memoir, Hapa Girl, and the racism she has described enduring informs Nea and her family's experiences. But they are survivors, and as Nea matures she increasingly uses her wits for her own advancement, forging a path to college, though even this hopeful note can't erase the narrative's depressing aura. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/27/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
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