Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

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Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race.

Listen in as ten YA authors ? some familiar, some new ? use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while ? until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for ...

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Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

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Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race.

Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ten writers and artists, including Varian Johnson, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Francisco X. Stork, offer brief works of fiction and nonfiction “about the between-cultures life.” As Perkins notes, “Humor has the power to break down barriers and draw us together across borders,” and the stories within bear that out, though few qualify as laugh-out-loud funny. Most offer a subtler, uncomfortable brand of situational humor: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich calls her high school “an oasis of suburban racial integration”; when the drama club performed The Crucible, “the drama coach was sensitive enough to ask the black members of the troupe if we’d be uncomfortable playing the role of slave Tituba.” And in “Under Berlin,” written in verse, G. Neri describes a “game” that a biracial American family plays on the German subway: seeing how quickly two elderly white women will change seats after the black father sits between them. The edgy joke-flirting between a Jewish violinist and Asian comedian in Cherry Cheva’s “Talent Show” and the hero of David Yoo’s “Becoming Henry Lee,” who comically embraces Asian stereotypes in an effort to fit in, will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
[A] noteworthy anthology, which robustly proves Perkins’s assertion that "funny is powerful."
—The Horn Book
VOYA - Matthew Weaver
Perkins organizes the stories wisely in this collection that hopes to put a humorous spin on a topical, deeply uncomfortable subject: Race. The book opens with several potato chip-light tales, like David Yoo's "Becoming Henry Choi," in which an Asian teenager first tries to avoid his heritage, then hilariously overcompensates with disastrous results. A Jewish violin player and an aspiring Asian stand-up comic make a romantic connection backstage in Cherry Cheva?s "Talent Show." Sparks also fly in Debbie Rigaud's "Voila!" and Perkins's own "Three-Pointer." These stories make a point— providing brief snapshots of people weighted down by the expectations of the multiple worlds they are trying to live in—but the stories are relatively safe. Then, the book shows there is meat to the topic as well, particularly Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich's "Confessions of a Black Geek." Arguably the best entry, it is really mostly a list of all the ways racism has touched the narrator's life. Coming in a close second is G. Neri's "Under Berlin." A "mixed American" family visiting Germany delights in making uptight white ladies uncomfortable on the subway, and Neri ends on the perfect note. In Francisco X. Stork's "Brotherly Love," siblings Luis and Rosalinda have a revealing conversation about their brother Bernie. These tales in particular dance between humor and heartache, ending on notes of triumph as we look toward a hopeful future. There is a fluffiness to the book that seems unsatisfying in a post-Trayvon Martin world, but a little hope never hurt anybody. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
This volume addresses the ways race and discrimination affect children and teenagers, from the perspective of ten different American writers of non-Caucasian background who approach the subject with humor and compassion for their younger selves. In her introduction, Perkins points out the importance of sharing personal stories about being “squeezed between cultures” and lists some criteria for good humor. Then, ten authors present unusual stories from their personal points of view. David Yoo explores how a Korean boy moves from peer rejection to some peer acceptance through his instinct for drama; after all, he has been acting all his life, right? Gene Luen Yang’s graphic story riffs on how The Airbender movie lost its ethnic edge. Naomi Shihab Nye deploys poetry to depict her Arab father’s hospitable and gracious approach, even to those who denigrated him, and to celebrate words that bring together rather than divide. Selections like Rhuday-Perkovich’s “Confessions of a Black Geek” will speak to the academically inclined while Neri’s “Under Berlin” will attract the socially skilled. This book is an excellent addition to libraries for its ability to spark conversations about one of the elephants in American classrooms--and society. Reviewer: Elisabeth Greenberg AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—More likely to be used with teens pedagogically than recreationally, this collection of short tales in a variety of genres explores the experiences of young people bridging cultures. Perkins's contribution is a memoir about the Guy Game she and her two older sisters played in their secret pursuit of points earned by being asked out, complimented, or kissed by boys. She tells about when a boy the color of deli turkey takes this chocolate-hued Indian girl on a church trip to an amusement park for a memorable three-point experience. Other highlights include Gene Yang's comic about why he boycotted a Hollywood version of the Avatar narratives that celebrate Asian culture in other formats but cast only white actors in this incarnation. A poem tells a wryly humorous story of unsettling white Berliners with a biracial family while another story focuses on a Korean kid who eschews Asian stereotypes until it becomes expedient to experiment with a reputation for math and martial-arts skills for a rung or two on the social ladder. Teachers will find some powerful material here about how the young can become discomfited and find solace in their multifaceted cultural communities. Francisco X. Stork relates unexpected acceptance and support for a gay Latino teen, while in other selections, characters proudly wave a Black Geek flag or grieve the loss of an Arab father who reached out with both hands to overcome prejudices. Purchase where schools seek useful pieces about YAs who identify with multiple cultures.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA
Kirkus Reviews
First the good news: Half the pieces in this uneven anthology are standouts. The Korean-American teen in David Yoo's story makes an unwanted, undeserved Asian "model minority" label work for him, acquiring unexpected life skills in the process. The sole black student at a Vermont boarding school is unsettled when black twin sisters also enroll in Varian Johnson's nuanced tale. Gene Luen Yang's graphic anecdote demonstrates how standing up for one's beliefs can yield rewards beyond self-esteem. Luis' siblings give him permission and support to transcend cultural constraints and be himself in Francisco X. Stork's gentle tale. Naomi Shihab Nye's wistful, bittersweet poem "Lexicon" looks at the power of words to unite or separate, exemplified by her Palestinian father and his fading hopes for peace. The remaining pieces are significantly weaker. Perkins salutes the value of lightening up in her introduction: "Conversations about race can be so serious, right? People get all tense or touchy." She offers ground rules: Good humor pokes fun at the powerful, not the weak; builds affection for the "other"; and is usually self-deprecatory. Yet too few pieces here reflect those rules or appear to have been conceived as humor. Undisclosed selection criteria, author bios that don't always speak to identity, and weak and dated content are problematic. The sweeping racial and cultural judgments and hostile--occasionally mean-spirited--tones of several pieces disappoint; angry venting may be justified and therapeutic, but it's seldom funny. Leaves readers with more questions than answers. (Anthology. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763658663
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 291,655
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 810L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Mitali Perkins is the author of numerous books for teens and younger readers, including Monsoon Summer and Secret Keeper. She was born in India and immigrated to the United States with her parents and two sisters when she was seven. Bengali-style, her and her sisters’ names all rhyme: Sonali means “gold,” Rupali means “silver,” and Mitali means “friendly.” About Open Mic, she says, “Humor crosses borders like no other literary device. Shared laughter fosters community and gets us talking about issues that might otherwise cause division or discomfort.” Mitali Perkins lives with her husband just outside Boston.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 20, 2013

    Great for classroom discussion

    Wonderful book which uses appropriate humor of several authors expressing how racism feels. We need more books like this one. For middle-secondary students. Great discussion starters.

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