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Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, Judy Fong Bates

2010/03/29

For young Su-Jen, leaving China and moving to Canada opens up a new world – not only a new culture, language, and way of life, but also the complexity of human nature and the relationships in her family. Over the course of this novel, Su-Jen navigates peer friendships, tries to adapt to Canadian society, meets her half-brother, puzzles over the relationship between her mother and father, and begins to realize that her family is presenting a facade to the outside world, underneath which are hidden issues which no one wants to speak aloud.

Teens will relate to Su-Jen as she navigates new and strange situations, and as she unravels the secrets of her family, to her confusion over why her father does not confront her half-brother and mother over their conduct. As she grows older, Su-Jen becomes the bridge between her parents and their community, especially in regards to language and cultural barriers. Some readers who do not have extensive knowledge of Asian societies, may be frustrated at the cultural and family constraints which forbid Su-Jen from exposing her family’s secrets. Despite this familial strife, Su-Jen genuinely cares for her family, and is cared for by them.

The text is replete with descriptions of Chinese culture – food, customs, clothing. The novel is written for an adult audience, but culturally aware senior high students may enjoy it. Others may brush it off as “too foreign” or slow-paced.

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