Start with a 22-year-old Chinese girl – challenged by dyslexia, coping with life after her mother’s death, becoming a parent figure to an 11-year-old younger sister, and helping her father make his way in the strange culture of America. Give her a job at dishwashing that keeps her hands raw and coarse. Include the contrasting worlds of her mother as a dancer and her father as a noodle maker. Add a godmother with enough quotes to cover any situation and a mysterious illness that may keep her gifted younger sister from mastering the test to get into the school for academically gifted students. Complicate it all for by naming the girl Charlie. See her trying to make her way in America without upsetting the equilibrium of her Chinatown community and relatives. You have her story in Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok.
Several selections are worth quoting.
• When “The Vision” predicts failure in Charlie’s new job, the Godmother brings out a Lao Tzu quote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
• As she dresses in dance costumes, “I sneaked a glance at myself in the mirror. For the first time, I did not see a dishwasher.”
• Her boy friend’s comment, “Every change has a hello and a good bye in it, you know? You always have to leave in order to go on to something new,” reminds her of a Godmother saying, “You must empty the cup before it can be filled again.”
• Threaded through the book is the conflict of Western versus Eastern culture and medicine accompanied by a lot of dance instruction. Charlie needs to find who she is in order to adequately help those she loves.
I found this to be a good summer afternoon read with one caveat. There seems to be a need to include multiple popular issues in the modern day world whether or not they add any real value to the plot line.