Title: Chinglish: An Almost Entirely True Story
Author: Sue Cheung
Illustrator: Sue Cheung
Cover illustration: Sue Cheung
Publisher: Andersen Press
Genre: Teen/young adult fiction, Comedy
Book format: Paperback
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description:  It’s hard to work out whether I’m Chinese or English but I know this for sure, the following aren’t normal no matter where you’re from:
-Exploding goats (don’t ask)
-Dealing with drunk customers (argh)
-Boiling maggots (ditto)
-Summer holidays to Little Chef (exotic)
-Mum trying to marry me off to David Wong (shudder)
It’s 1984.  Jo Kwan’s family have just moved to a new town to live in a cramped flat above their Chinese takeaway.  Things are seriously awkward, whther Jo’s dealing with annoying siblings, school bullies, friendship dramas, fashion disasters or some very unlucky pets.  Life is often hilarious, frequently confusing and sometimes just makes Jo want to stick drawing pins in her eyes.
As her home life with her erratic parents gets ever tougher, she dreams of breaking free to become an artist.  Can Jo get through her crazy teenage years?

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  This is an interesting and generally fun book that deals with some deeper issues than it first appears. Jo Kwan’s family have just moved house (not for the first time) so they can run a new Chinese Takeaway. The flat above it is smaller than the home they used to live in, and Jo doesn’t know anyone at her new school, but she’s determined to write down everything good that happens in her diary. Except life as a teenager of Chinese parents in the 1980s, isn’t as easy as she’d hoped, and things aren’t as simple as they first appear.

Chinglish book page image one
©The Strawberry Post

This book is set out like a diary with added doodle-like illustrations throughout, and feels like it’s aimed at younger teens. It was easy to get into this right away and I liked the easy way the story and text flowed. The story begins with some funny things that happen to Jo, showing how her family is completely different, and slightly mad, compared with others in the area. Unfortunately Jo begins to experience some racism in the form of silly remarks here and there, and people asking where she comes from (both at school and outside of it). At first there is some mild bullying, but over half way into the story it takes a much darker turn.

There are no chapters and instead the book is seperated into four sections, each a different year in the mid to late 80s. The reason the book is set in this time period is because it is based on the author’s real life experiences as a teenager growing up in the 1980s. I personally didn’t have a problem with the setting as I understood a lot of what was going on, however I’m not sure if teens today will understand or know of any of the bands or celebrities mentioned which could make it a slightly more confusing read for them.

The story is a generally funny one, although it becomes a mix of humour and more serious as it progresses, and we find out more about Jo’s family and her past. The tale does take a darker turn towards the second half though, and while I don’t want to spoil the story by mentioning exactly what happens, I will say that certain bullying leads to some violent abuse. The abuse isn’t excessively graphic, but what happens would be enough to shock anyone reading it, given the context, and after a specific event, the story gets more serious and less humerous. As I was reading this dark turn, I did start to think that the tale was going somewhere, that it would give a good overall message at the end as I was hoping the issues raised would be resolved, but although the ending was wrapped up well, and was ultimately a good and positive one for Jo, I was disappointed when I finished reading this, as those big issues just were never resolved.

While Jo’s personal ending is a good one and there are some good things that happen to characters like her sister at the end, I am left with very mixed feelings after reading this. The darker nature of the bullying that happens in the story is never really dealt with in the way that I would have expected it to be, it’s sort of left there, as if it no longer matters (in an ‘out of sight out of mind’ sort of way) and it leaves you wondering what will happen in the future especially to some of the other charcters in the book. As I said I don’t really want to spoil the story too much, but I did find it strange that the author couldn’t have done something more with the plot, especially as this is not a memoir but a mix of memoir and fiction.

There are various doodles all in black and white among the text, which help to add more humour to certain areas and help to lighten some of the much darker parts of this story. I really like these doodles as they break up the text and they really do make you smile when you see them, especially some of the silly things like the goats! The book does have a little swearing in it, but not much with the ‘s’ word being used only a few times. The last page of the book is filled with helplines for children/teens to call if they are can relate to and are maybe suffering the same issues that happen in this story. While I like this addition and feel it’s is important given the plot, I am still concerned that some of the iisues this book raises like: racism, bullying, abuse and mental health problems were not really dealt with by the conclusion. Of course this was a humerous story, but if serious issues are to be included, I’d expect the author to ad more about this in a notes section or for the plot to be changed to fit. But the plot is left as it is, and the author never mentions these issues at all in her end notes, which I find is a shame and a bit strange, given how big a deal some of these issues are in the modern age.

Chinglish book page image two
©The Strawberry Post

Overall I did enjoy reading this story and it has a fun style and humour that is easy to like. Because it is a mixture of both real events and fictional it might explain why some things are not really dealt with properly by the ending. While it’s a good conclusion to Jo’s story, and you do find out at the end that the author did have the same ultimate ending (when you read the author notes), I still am disappointed by the way it ends and the way big issues are ignored. Maybe it’s the fact that the setting is the 1980s and these issues back then were not given the same seriousness that they are today? I don’t know. I do think it’s a good and fun story to read though, and many might enjoy it, but you might be a little disappointed by the ending. It’s probably also not the best story for anyone who might actually be going through some of the darker issues as the overall message of what to do in such a situation seems to be lost.

Have you read this book?  Do you enjoy comedy books written like diaries?  What humerous diary-style books do you enjoy?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂