Necessary Roughnessby Marie G. Lee
Chan Kim enjoys playing soccer, until his family has to move to a small town where nobody plays the sport. He has a hard time fitting in, and then a tragic accident forces him to face the toughest challenge of all.See more details below
Chan Kim enjoys playing soccer, until his family has to move to a small town where nobody plays the sport. He has a hard time fitting in, and then a tragic accident forces him to face the toughest challenge of all.
Leaving behind a successful grocery store in Los Angeles, the Kims move to Minnesota to rescue the store owned by the father's no-good, drug-dealing brother, Bong. Readers will identify the laconic and pained narrator, Chan, and his twin sister, Young, as different from each other as their former city's cultural diversity is from the relative homogeneity of their new small town. The family encounters prejudice from hostile provincials, as well as a welcome from their open-hearted landlady, Mrs. Knutson. Lee creates a tangible sense of what it means to work hard: The Kims struggle to make their new store succeed, going without furniture and embracing Minnesota hotdish. Tragedy comes when Young is killed in a car accident; reeling from the loss, Chan confronts the xenophobic bullies on the football team and reaches an understanding with his old-world father. Both points could have been reached without the death of Young, which seems a forced, unnecessary, and easy plot development. Lee's talent for dramatically depicting the pain and tragedy in living, for showing that every day is a battle, is subordinated by the facile scenes surrounding Young's death. Yet even if the lessons are not as precisely realized as those in Lee's previous books, this is still a strong and intelligent novel.
- CENGAGE Learning
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Read an Excerpt
Okay, I shouldn't have done it. They say hindsight is twenty-twenty; my visibility is now unlimited. I shouldn't have even dreamed of saying anything about the Buddha. But what can I say except that, at the time, it seemed a perfectly logical thing to do?
The Buddha statue in question was the size of a Border collie and about three times as heavy. Pure stone, very Las Vegas in gold-leaf paint. It always sat in the left comer of our living room, its smile semi-hidden behind the potted palm.
No one ever paid any attention to it. We didn't offer it food like the Parks did with theirs. It just sat there. So when my mother said we needed to leave things behind for the big move, I suggested that.
Naturally. We say grace before meals, which means we're Christians, which means we have no need for a Budda statue--right? And the Parks certainly would have appreciated the donation, two Buddhas being better than one and all that.
But as usual, after I said it I wished I hadn't. I still don't know exactly why that lump of stone was so important, but Abogee boiled over, as if I'd suggested we leave my sister behind or something. And I knew he was mad, not because he ranted and raved or whopped me on my heinie with a yardstick--like he used to when I was little--but because he refused to talk to me, or even look at me, the whole drive to Minnesota.
When my abogee gets mad, he either yells or gives you the silent treatment, depending on his mood. I almost prefer the yelling because eventually it blows over. It's his silence that really cuts, the way a piece of paper can slice your finger open.
But this time Ididn't let him get to me. I was mad too, and we kind of canceled each other out.
I couldn't believe it when Abogee told us we were leaving L.A. I think the first words out of my mouth were "But we can't. I haven't finished high school yet!"
0-Ma (Young and I call her by the Korean word for mom, while Abogee makes us call him Abogee--father) made me go outside, which is rare for her. I didn't stop to think that she was probably upset too. I mean, she was leaving all her friends, her church, and Kim's Green Extravaganza, our store.
I felt even worse when Young didn't complain, even though a week ago she'd found out that--after about a kajillion auditions--she'd won a spot in the L.A. Young (no relation) People's Orchestra.
She just nodded when she heard the news, which made Abogee say to me, "Why can't you be more obedient like your sister?"
It always boils down to this: I'm the evil twin and Young is the good one.
Last night through the wall I heard Abogee tell 0-Ma that if we were in Korea, I would never talk back to him like I do. So how does he know? How can he predict what I'd be like?
I would say that we're an almost perfect family, except for the one small fact that Abogee and I could start World War III all by ourselves. The way Abogee talks, you'd think he had me mixed up with some other son, One who gets all A's. One who knows what his abogee wants before he says anything. One who snaps to attention and goes "Yessir!" at everything his abogee says.
And as for me, my life is defined by the perpetual fear of pissing him off. I never mean to, like I said, but it's like walking through a minefield. No matter how much you tiptoe around, sooner or later--boom!--you're going to get it.
So there we were, in a clanky station wagon, the Buddha statue weighing down the rear, heading toward Minnesota. Toward certain doom.
According to our espionage reports, it was Abogee's brother who got us into this mess. Even though Young and I aren't allowed in on family affairs, we manage to piece things together, especially since the walls that separate the rooms in our house are as thin as rice crackers.
Let me back up to give you a little history. Abogee and O-Ma came to America when Young and I were three. Abogee had been a chemist, so he wasn't too thrilled with O-Ma's idea of opening a grocery--even though his Ph.D. friends Mr. Park and Mr. Lee also had stores. But when he couldn't find a position in chemistry, he went along with O-Ma's idea, grumbling all the way.
O-Ma named our store Kim's Green Extravaganza. We sold all sorts of veggies and fruits and went mental about keeping them extra fresh. The moment something got even a little soft or had one tiny little bruise, we either gave it away to friends or took it home. To this day I'm haunted by the spongy taste of overripe apples.
The other thing about the store was that we sold stuff our customers needed: soup-for-one, tiny cans of cat food, cigarettes, fat-free cookies. O-Ma even went so far as to ask for suggestions. Abogee complained that people would think we didn't know how to run a business. But the stuff O-Ma ordered from people's suggestions almost always became regular sellers.
I guess we were doing pretty well, because Abogee's mom and his brother, Bong, eventually came from Korea to live with us.
At first I wasn't too thrilled to be sharing the house with two strangers, but Grandma, Halmoni, grew on me. She padded around in her stocking feet, and when I came home from school, I could hear her singing wafting through the open windows . . .Necessary Roughness. Copyright © by Marie Lee. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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