Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. 272 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2012. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780316125901.
Of course, I was living in Japan at the time, so it wasn't that far, but still... I am dedicated to experiencing good food and interesting travel. Given that this book combines both of these things, it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved it.
The third installment in Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical "Year of..." series sees the Lin family on a month-long trip to Taiwan. It's a first for Pacy, who is not exactly in touch with her Taiwanese heritage, having lived in upstate New York all her life. She doesn't feel like she belongs in Taiwan, and is caught between her two cultures. As Pacy navigates an unfamiliar language, a daunting new art style in Chinese painting class, and her own insecurities, her only comfort is dumplings. Luckily, there are a lot of delicious dumplings to be had in Taiwan!
Filled with vivid descriptions of Taiwan, an exuberant extended family, and a rich array of new experiences for Pacy, this book is a treat for the senses. As in the previous books in the series, charming black and white line drawings accompany the narrative. In this volume, the illustrations give the feeling of a travel journal. One need not be familiar with Taiwan to enjoy the narrative; in fact, since it’s all new to Pacy, the reader is introduced to the sights and customs of Taiwan along with her.
The wonder of discovering a new place deftly parallels the theme of self-discovery, and Pacy's struggle with the sense that she doesn’t belong in her parents’ homeland will ring true for many bicultural readers. The process of her coming to terms with her identity and finding balance is layered, realistic, and ultimately heartening.
Those who have gotten to know Pacy through the first two books in the series will love witnessing her continued growth in Dumpling Days. Here, in learning more about herself, she also forges deeper connections with her family, displaying increasing maturity as she considers how her parents must have felt when they left Taiwan to make a new home in the United States.
I found this book to be completely enchanting, and so true to the confusing, amazing, exhilarating experience of travel. I'm so excited to give it to my niece as a Lunar New Year gift-- she'll get a red envelope too, don't worry... but a new book by her favorite author will be quite a bonus!
I recommend reading the first two books in the series before this one, but DumplingDays stands on its own quite effectively if you want to jump right in.
Warning: you may feel an urgent need to run to the nearest dim sum restaurant and order up a mountain of dumplings while reading this book. I say go for it!
Dumpling Days will be available in bookstores everywhere on January 2, 2012. ARC for review kindly provided by Little, Brown.