cover image The Chinese Groove

The Chinese Groove

Kathryn Ma. Counterpoint, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64009-566-3

Ma (The Year She Left Us) returns with the vibrant story of a Chinese immigrant living in present-day San Francisco. Zheng Xue Li, known as Shelley, is 18 when his father sends him to study in the U.S.—as part of his deceased mother’s dream for him—and live with his rich uncle, Ted, whose family owns a store. Shelley hopes a new life in Ted’s household will provide the stability for him to pursue his dreams of becoming a poet and the status to help him win back his English ex-girlfriend, Lisbet, but his expectations are sunk upon arrival. Turns out Ted’s neither rich nor his uncle (he’s a second cousin), and Shelley can only stay for two weeks. Soon Shelley’s left to juggle school, a restaurant job, and life in a crowded rooming house—with a little help from the “Chinese groove,” or the unspoken connection among fellow Chinese immigrants. Though the episodic plot gets a bit unwieldy with its many side characters and hurdles—a cousin coming to collect a debt, an ever elusive Lisbet—Ma does a good job conveying the bonds of Shelley’s community and family. This immersive story is worth a look. Agent: Stacy Testa, Writers House. (Jan.)