Finding My Hat


In a semi-autobiographical debut novel that is at turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, John Son conveys the uniqueness and universality of a Korean-American childhood.

Jin-Han Park's story opens with his first memory: losing his hat to a sudden gust of wind. He never gets it back. But his Uhmmah buys him many more hats, and Jin-Han discovers that he can reinvent himself with a change of headgear, be it a bright red cowboy hat or a cap with earflaps. So he tries on hat after...

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In a semi-autobiographical debut novel that is at turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, John Son conveys the uniqueness and universality of a Korean-American childhood.

Jin-Han Park's story opens with his first memory: losing his hat to a sudden gust of wind. He never gets it back. But his Uhmmah buys him many more hats, and Jin-Han discovers that he can reinvent himself with a change of headgear, be it a bright red cowboy hat or a cap with earflaps. So he tries on hat after hat, searching for his place in America while clinging to his Korean culture and traditions, keeping them from the wind. Being different isn't always easy. But somewhere between kimchee and corn dogs, Jin-Han will make a place for himself . . .

Jin-Han describes his life growing up with his mother and father, immigrants from Korea, and his little sister as they move to different cities with his parents' business.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"This debut novel is a tender quasi-memoir detailing the author's childhood in a Korean immigrant family," PW said. "Son's language is at times startling with its simple elegance." Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From The Critics
Have you ever felt like your family is different than everyone else's? Jin-Han Park has. Young Jin-Han is a first generation Korean American immigrant. Not only do Jin-Han's parents speak a different language at home than he speaks in public, but they look different, act different, and eat different foods than everyone else. In Finding My Hat, we follow Jin-Han through his battles in kindergarten all the way through his years in junior high school where he quite humorously discovers girls. Jin-Han's story is that of a young boy dealing with the many hardships and triumphs life seems to throw at him. Finding My Hat is told with grace and style, while still addressing many difficult issues including the tragic death of his mother. Young adult readers will be quick to engage in Jin-Han's story. 2003, Orchard Books, 185 pp. Ages young adult. Reviewer: Stephanie Rips
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2004: John Son adds the inspiration of his own family's immigrant experience to this excellent series. John's parents were born in Korea; he immigrated to America with his parents as a young child. He begins this fictional story with incidents in Jin-Han's early childhood, his first memories living with his loving parents in Chicago. The family decides to invest in a wig store, as other Koreans in the 1970s were doing, with many of their customers African Americans. The story of Jin-Han and his family (a little sister comes along eventually) is told in whimsical vignettes, many of which are amusing tales of family life, until later, when Jin-Han is a teenager and his mother is stricken with cancer and dies. Before this tragedy, Jin-Han is slowly learning about girls—he is popular with his friends and leads a life he's pretty sure his parents couldn't possibly understand. When his Ahpbah (father) tells him "I'm afraid I'm having some bad news," Jin-Han at first is angry. "I didn't want to hear this kind of thing. I wanted to be mad at him for telling me something so incredibly crappy, especially when I was having the most incredible time with my first real girlfriend." When his mother comes home from the hospital, with no hair, desperately ill, "Uhmmah looked at me and quickly looked away, almost as if she was embarrassed, that she was letting me down. Even if I had known enough Korean, I don't think I would've been able to say what I felt." John Son covers a lot of emotional territory with his first-person fiction. (First Person Fiction). KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003,Scholastic, 185p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Son's novel tells the life story of Jin-Han Park, a second-generation Korean American, from his beginnings through his adolescence. The hat in the title refers to Jin-Han's first memory, in which he was taking a walk with his mother and his hat blew off. The hat becomes a metaphor for Jin-Han's identity, something he is searching for throughout the novel. The book focuses primarily on his relationship with his parents, who came to the United States before he was born. The novel contains incidents that show the problems that Korean-Americans face, such as the language barrier between Jin-Han's parents and others in their community. It also explores culture clashes between Korean-Americans and African-Americans, as in an altercation between Jin-Han's parents and a customer in the wig store that they own. Parents should be aware that early in the novel, an incident occurs in which Jin-Han's family makes light of African-American stereotypes; however, the book ultimately conveys the message that this attitude is unacceptable. As Jin-Han grows into adolescence, he wants to assimilate more into his circle of American friends and makes attempts to rebel against his family. When his mother is diagnosed with cancer, Jin-Han realizes that he must reconnect with his parents instead of pulling away from them. This novel stresses to preteen readers the importance of staying true to themselves while still respecting their origins and families. The book's ending includes a glossary of Korean words used in the novel and a short biography of the author. 2003, Orchard Books, Ages 8 to 12.
—Heather Bivens
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Jin-Han Park's earliest memory is of losing his hat to a strong wind in Chicago. The son of Korean immigrants, he seems to be blown around a lot himself, as his parents move from Chicago to Memphis to Houston searching for a better life and a place to establish their wig business. Son's first novel is a moving and sometimes hilarious portrait of a young immigrant trying to find his place between the culture of his parents and that of his friends and classmates. Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the book follows Jin-Han from the age of two to the death of his mother when he is in high school. Each memory, from wetting his pants in nursery school to the confusion and excitement of his first girlfriend, is endearing. Although Jin-Han is a fictional character, the author's note reveals that the story has many autobiographical elements. And while it is filled with descriptions of Korean food and culture (a glossary is appended), the feelings and experiences described are universal. One thing that may confuse readers early on is that Jin-Han's parents switch between Korean and English, a transition that is sometimes only indicated by the awkward grammar of their English speech. This is a minor complaint, though, in what is otherwise a beautifully written and deeply personal account of growing up.-Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Poetic, memoir-style vignettes tell the story of Jin-Han's life from toddlerhood to early adolescence. When a gusty Chicago wind sweeps away two-year-old Jin-Han's acorn-shaped hat, the first-person narration-this is an entry in the First Person Fiction series-is a child's-eye view infused with an older gaze. This voice continues until Jin-Han reaches junior high, when his first crushes and dawning sexual feelings make the narration more solidly integrated-and suddenly funny. His Korean immigrant parents move the family from Chicago to Memphis to Dallas trying to earn a living, and Jin-Han wends his way between kimchi and Tolkien, between the simple spoken Korean that he understands and the fast adult Korean that he doesn't. The gentle role of hats on the literal level holds a surprising and deep metaphor for the careful reader. This quiet story shows how unembellished observation can be quite moving, from hats lost in the wind to a shocking and powerful event at the end. (author's note, glossary) (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439435390
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Series: First Person Fiction
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,422,618
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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