A book with a huge heartbeat and so much love infused in every page.Alice Pung
Title: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
Author: Wai Chim
Publication Date: August 5th, 2019 (AU) & November 10th, 2020 (USA)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genre: Contemporary, romance, mental health
Age Range: YA
Synopsis: Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen. But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
There are quite a few things that I’m fiercely passionate about, including positive and realistic representation in media, mental health awareness, and, funnily enough, a really good dumpling. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling combines all 3 of those things, but if that’s not enough information to convince you that it’s a must read, I’m more than prepared to give you a helpful nudge towards a truly heart-warming read.
5 Reasons to read The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling:
1. Positive and realistic representation. Anna is an Asian-American teenager whose Cantonese reflect the rest of her academic skills – passable at best. Anna struggles with being mediocre in school while her younger sister Lily repeatedly demonstrates her competence and ingenuity and their younger brother Michael shows off the work of a budding artist. Anna’s struggles with her supposed mediocrity is something I feel could resonate with students everywhere, but Asian students especially. When you are surrounded by people who look like you and were raised like you but excel in areas you’re barely passing, it can be extremely disheartening, and I think the acknowledgment of this fact in The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling could help people of all ages.
2. Discussion of the stigma surrounding mental health in the Asian community. If I had a penny for every time I or someone I know said that the words “I’m fine” or “someone else has bigger problems than me,” I’d have enough money to live off of xiao long bao for the rest of my life. There is a prevailing idea that therapy is for people who have already gone off the deep end and done something extreme, but the truth is, we could all benefit from going to therapy. Our problems don’t have to be too big to manage before we seek help, and therapy shouldn’t be treated as a last resort. From my personal experience, when people do go to therapy, it’s talked about like it’s something shameful and secretive. It’s not. And Wai Chim makes repeated statements to point that out.
3. The power of food as a source of love, community, and healing. My parents grew up working in their respective family restaurants, and while I was born after all of those restaurants were sold, I taste a bit of their legacy every time my parents cook for me. My parents are quick with verbal I love yous and hugs, but they show their love for us in other ways, like when my mom lets me and my sister have the meatier parts of the duck, or when my dad shares his dinner with me without saying a word. Our family gatherings are always centered around food, and I built that into my relationships with my friends without realizing it was happening. Food is an excuse for us to get together and a medium with which we can tell everyone else you matter to me, and I want to show you that. I have an ongoing list of comfort foods, and there’s no denying the fact that sometimes, when you’re having a bad day, the only thing that can make things better is the surprising power of a good dumpling.
4. The path everyone else is taking is not the only path. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is about Anna’s relationship with her family and mental health, yes, but it is also about Anna’s struggles outside of home, as she’s pressured by her guidance counselor to push herself and “be more.” Anna loves working in her father’s restaurant and doesn’t understand why her counselor and her father don’t want her to pursue it as a career. Wanting to take over the family restaurant isn’t “enough” for them, even if it’s what Anna wants. I used to be the person who, when I heard that someone I graduated high school with wasn’t in college, thought Don’t you care about your future? I WAS SO WRONG. Not going to college doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t care about their future – academic success is not everything! People shouldn’t be measured by their merit in school, because that’s not the end all be all of things. It took me a long time to unlearn the mantra you have to do well in school to succeed, and I love that this book has the potential to help someone else unlearn that, too.
5. Families are complicated and messy. Way to point out the obvious, right? But it’s true, and I appreciate that The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling explores the complications that I see in my life and the lives of my friends and extended family. Parent-child relationships are complex. Sibling relationships are complex. Marriages are complex. Families are complex, in that we have the ability to resent our family members, not want to be around them, wish a million things were different, and still love them at the same time. We can appreciate every sacrifice our parents made and love them for who they are and still hope that they can change for the better. Families can be complicated, tangled webs, and they only get more and more complex as we add layers like cultural values and mental health. Sometimes they band together stronger than ever, and sometimes they don’t – I’m happy to say that, without spoiling much, Anna’s family achieves the former.
If, for some reason, you’re still on the fence about picking up The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, just know that reading it gives you the same feeling as eating that first xiao long bao and having the soup warm you up as soon as it hits your mouth. Except that content, warm, comforting feeling lingers and stays with you even after you’ve finished the book. And if you eat the xiao long bao before it cools enough and burn your mouth, causing your eyes to water? Yeah. You’ll probably experience that last bit, too, but in the best possible way.