Mambo in Chinatown
by Jean Kwok
Synopsis: The elder daughter of a ballerina and a noodle-maker, immigrants from Beijing, Charlie Wong grew up in Manhattan's Chinatown. Although she is an ABC (American-born Chinese), at twenty-two she has hardly left that neighborhood, her entire world fitting within its familiar boundaries. She still lives in the only apartment she has ever known, a tiny one-bedroom she shares with her widower father and eleven-year-old sister. And she works as a dishwasher at the neighborhood noodle shot that employs her father. Neither academically gifted like her sister nor exceptionally pretty like her neighbor, Charlie does her best to accept her limited options, taking joy in helping to raise her sister and support her father, and practicing tai chi whenever she can.
When Charlie then surprises even herself by landing a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio uptown, her expectations are upended. Far from the streets of Chinatown, she is introduced to an entirely new world, one that encourages her to imagine a bigger life than what she has know. Keeping it an elaborate secret from her father, with his suspicion of all things Western, she spends more and more time at the dance studio, and awkward Charlie's natural talents-and dreams-begin to emerge. But as a local witch has told her, "What one sister gains, shall the other lose," and soon enough, Charlie's blossoming coincides with the appearance of chronic illness in her younger sister. With his distrust of Western medicine, her traditional father insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices, to no avail. Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds-Eastern and Western, old and new-to rescue her sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
from the book jacket
Becky's Review: After reading Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation, I was excited to read this book when I saw it on the bookshelf at the library. But unfortunately this book fell short of my expectations. This book was far too contrived and convenient for me. Everything lined up too well and changes in characters were highly uncharacteristic. The book kept me reading so something was well done. But the more I thought about the story, the more unrealistic it seemed. Charlie was a terrible receptionist but yet the studio would take a gamble on her dancing abilities after she's shown her clumsiness? The other thing that bothered me was Charlie's willingness to sit by and watch her sister deteriorate but not try harder to get her to a medical doctor. I understand the cultural differences but Charlie seemed much more Western than Eastern. I just wish that this story wasn't wrapped up so neatly. It had potential.
Marcie's Review: I have seen this book at the library for the last few months, and I kept picking it up and putting it back because I thought Becky had read it and not rated it highly. But I wasn't entirely sure, and it kept calling to me with its bright red cover, dancing shoes and story about ballroom dancing, so I finally checked it out. It was a fast read that I definitely enjoyed; I loved learning more about ballroom dancing and seeing the transformation in Charlie from an awkward girl to a confident woman. But there were quite a few things that took away from my enjoyment, namely that so much of the story was unrealistic. How Charlie got hired at the studio, how she became a teacher, how quickly she picked up dancing and became a professional, how she didn't take her sister to a Western doctor, her romance with her partner, and how neatly and quickly everything was tied up at the end of the book. It was just too unbelievable. Basically, I agree with Becky's review 100%.
Becky's Rating: 3 stars
Marcie's Rating: 3 stars