Middle Grade Monday Book Review: Open Mic: riffs on life between cultures

17262283Ten authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute, simply by sitting quietly between two uptight women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

Three things for a middle grade reader to love

1. As the editor of this collection Mitali Perkins says, “humor crosses boarders like no other literary device. Shared laughter fosters community and gets us talking about issues that might otherwise case division or discomfort.” Here are ten wonderful jumping off places for family and classroom conversation.

2. I’m delighted to see the graphic novel format represented in a short story collection and I think Gene Luen Yang has something particularly valuable to share: the experience of speaking out against a film he felt represented his race unfairly. The unexpected happy ending was an invitation to write a better story himself from Dark Horse Comics. (Hurray for my hometown comics publisher!)

3. I found the most poignant story the one Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich wrote about her own experience as a high achieving student applying for college. Perhaps because one of my children is a senior this year and is in the throes of college acceptance drama, it struck a particular chord. In some ways it is the most YA of the stories as it deals so directly with college admissions but I think the experience of high achieving minority students is fraught with this particular brand of prejudice long before senior year.

Something for myself to think about as a writer

My godparents gave me a book of short stories when I was 8 years old. I remember because it was the first “grown-up” book I’d ever received as a gift. I’ve always loved short stories and this collection made me think about why I love them so much. The truth is, the story Rhuday-Perkovich wrote about college admissions could have been a whole novel. Most high schools have that pack of kids who take AP classes and compete on the debate team and get involved in music or drama. She could have written a novel. The story Francisco X. Stork wrote about a brother and sister enfolding their younger gay-but-not-out brother in that unwise but fiercely protective love siblings have for each other, could have been a novel too. But I love the impact of the shorter form. It forces the writer to sift through a multitude of ideas and information about a character and present only the most powerful moment. Concentration. Focus.

I’ve just finished a full novel revision and am engaged in that lengthiest of ping pong games, the editorial process.  I think, what ever else I accomplish in February I want to write at least a half dozen short stories, just to see what new story ideas will bubble up in this new year.


2 thoughts on “Middle Grade Monday Book Review: Open Mic: riffs on life between cultures

  1. Rosanne Parry Post author

    Thanks for stopping by Laura. I really loved short stories when I was a kid although most of what I read was single author collections by O. Henry and Kipling and various Irish writers and fairytales in translation. I’m always looking for a good story collection or anthology. I’ll try to review them as I find them because you’re right, they’re a bit hard to find.

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