Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voicesby Mitali Perkins
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.
—The Horn Book
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
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)
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. Mitali Perkins lives with her husband just outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
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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.