Thursday, July 25, 2013

HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET by Sherri L. Smith

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith is, perhaps, the cutest book I’ve ever read.  It’s the charming YA novel about Ana Shen, a smart and sassy young girl of African-American/Chinese-American heritage, upon her graduation from junior-high school.

The book displays fourteen-year old Ana as she copes with  her many issues—her younger  brother, her parents, her nemesis at school.  Her junior-high graduation is a near ‘disaster’.  Though she has no boyfriend, Ana does have a huge crush on a boy in her class.  Thankfully, she has a loyal best friend, Chelsea, to help her navigate life.

The book has a contemporary feel as it depicts, in Ana’s teacher’s words, a “‘marvelously biracial, multicultural’ family,” as they prepare for and participate in a celebration dinner.  Among the likable characters are Ana’s parents, grandparents, and best friend—featuring dialogue that sounds modern and authentic.  For instance, when Ana says:

“We’ve had exactly three family meals with both sides together. . .  We eat out together.  We have to eat out together, or else there’ll be a fight or a disaster, or the end of the world. . . .  This is no longer a dinner, it’s a competition.  That means you’ve made my life hell for the next’—she glances at her watch—four hours.  Four hours!  Holy crap, I’ve gotta go!”

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet  is a YA novel that will resonate with both older and YA readers, alike.  This is a book I’d have loved to have read as a young adult.  I found myself reminiscing  on my own junior-high/high school graduations, and that time in my life.  I think Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet will evoke pleasant memories for other readers as well.  (This is a book both mothers and their daughters will empathize with and enjoy reading.)

I so enjoyed reading this book!  Young adult readers will just think, This book is awesome!

A delightful little book, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is by an award-winning author.  It’s witty, engaging; its cuteness knows no bounds.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

VINTAGE CISNEROS by Sandra Cisneros

Vintage Cisneros is the perfect introduction to the legendary writings of Sandra Cisneros.  A graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Cisneros is a poet and novelist.  Vintage Cisneros  is a compendium of her poems, stories and several chapters from her first novel, The House on Mango Street.

This YA novel is the story of Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago.  The thirteen-year old’s  tone and language suffuse the book with authentic emotion.   In a series of vignettes, Esperanza assesses her block, her friends, her universe.  Though her name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, she says: “I would like to baptize myself a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.”  Of the world, she says,  “You can never have too much sky.”

Vintage Cisneros  also bears selections from Cisneros’ poetry and stories, such as “Eyes of Zapata”  (a long story in the voice of his beloved that serves as a form of tribute to Emiliano Zapata),  “All parts from Mexico, assembled in the USA or I am born,” “Someday my Prince Popocat├ępetl will come,”  “Love Poem for a non-believer,” “You bring out the Mexican in me,” and others.

The writing is personal, specific, with beautiful imagery and sentiments that are searing in their honesty.  Most times, Vintage Cisneros reads  like a memoir For example, in  “Preface from My Wicked Wicked Ways,”  Cisneros writes,

“What does a woman
willing to invent herself
at twenty-two or twenty-nine
do?  A woman with no who nor how.
And how was I to know what was unwise.

I wanted to be [a] writer.  I wanted to be happy.”

--Yolanda  A.  Reid

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The most poignant moment in The Cooked Seed is when Anchee asked her lover, Qigu,  “Do you love me?”  They had been in a relationship for several months, but he had never said the words, I love you.  It was not  “the Chinese way,” he said. “You know how I feel about you, . . . and I know how you feel about me.  Isn't that enough?”

They wed, had a child and remained together for six years.  Qigu, an artist, was the grasshopper to Anchee’s worker-ant (although, she also was an artist).

Born into a middle-class family in Shanghai, China, Anchee Min survived a painful and heartbreaking chidhood.  This was during the Cultural Revolution.  Min’s parents  “were teachers, and thus regarded as bourgeois sympathisers.”  They lived in cramped quarters, in which the kitchen doubled as a bathroom, used not only by Min’s family but also by several neighbors.

Anchee as a child subsisted near starvation.  Her mother pawned the family’s clothes and  “the backs of her feet bled” as she walked in the snow. 

Later—once Chairman Mao’s formidable widow, Chiang Ching, lost political clout—Min became a pariah.  “I was considered a ‘cooked seed’—no chance to sprout.”

So Min was determined to emigrate to the US, in order to expand her life opportunities.   She applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was accepted and managed to obtain the necessary visa.

In Chicago, armed with her “English-Chinese dictionary and  English 900 sentences book,”  she struggles to learn English.  Once her college classmate explains the meaning of  “What’s up, dude?” Min switches from the stuffy  “How do you do?” she had learned in language class and which no one used. 

Early on in the process of learning English, Min makes many language mistakes.  Once, she tells Qigu he is “full of booloony” (she means baloney).  “The big moving room—the elevator” fascinates her, but she confuses the word with “refrigerator.”  One of the first phrases she understands fully is from Mr.  Rogers: “The best gift you can offer is your honest self.” 

A happy moment in the book is when Lloyd, her beau and husband-to-be, says he loves her and she says she loves him.

In The Cooked Seed, Min offers us an unflinchingly honest self-portrait.  She does not exclude anything unflattering.  Moreover, the book depicts an extraordinary metamorphosis, from loyal Chinese worker  to an American woman.  The book also depicts Min’s struggles as a single parent, and later, how she and her husband, Lloyd, prepare her daughter for the SAT’s and other college entrance exams.

The Cooked Seed is a compelling portrait of life in contemporary  China and of the US immigrant experience.  It is also the story of a strong pragmatic woman as she perseveres from “Chinese fatalism” and a propensity “to dwell on the literature of misery, exile, imprisonment, and despair” to American optimism, the “tomorrow-is-another-day attitude” of Scarlett O’Hara.

“Truth,” Min writes, “would lead to real beauty.”  In The Cooked Seed, the language is spare, utilitarian, and true.

--Yolanda  A.  Reid

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