Week-end Book Review: What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Paul Yee,
What Happened This Summer
Tradewind Books, 2006.

Ages 12-18

Reviewed July 2007 by PaperTigers Editor Marjorie Coughlan, For more reviews by the PaperTigers team, click here.

Paul Yee, recipient of numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for his novel Ghost Train, focuses on the modern-day lives and concerns of Chinese-Canadians in this, his latest novel for young adults.  So what did happen this summer? A general response would be that each teen-age protagonist came of age, grew up – and we, the reader, are privy to that process, because each experience is related in the first person and so we read what is going on in their heads as well as the unfolding events.

Yee keeps the reader on their toes: there is no warning that the narrator is going to change from chapter to chapter and since we are not introduced formally, we even have to work out whether the “I” is male or female.  I was half-expecting the narrators to return in cycles – instead, we catch odd glimpses of them as they happen to pass through someone else’s story. Indeed, each story could stand alone as a short story, a vignette of the challenges and concerns faced by each character: parental expectations and pressure, school, homosexuality, racial stereotypes, sex, death – in other words the full gamut of the issues considered relevant by the majority of teenagers today.  Yee’s focus on the Chinese-Canadian experience adds an extra facet to these subjects.

So, again, what happened this summer?  While each person’s story could stand alone, Yee is actually setting up the strings of his narrative to be pulled together in the final chapter.   This watershed time in all their lives reaches its peak at that point and it is as powerful as it is unexpected.  However, life does go on and, as is so often the case, it will only be with hindsight that each narrator will come to realise the significance of that period in their lives: something beyond the book’s telling that is up to readers to interpret for themselves.

A thought-provoking book that will appeal to young adults who are themselves on the brink of making life-affecting decisions about their own futures.

paw_sm_MC Do read our 2003 interview with Paul Yee here and our most recent interview with him in 2011 here.

Week-end Book Review: The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Reviewed by Abigail Sawyer:

Paul Yee,
The Secret Keepers
Tradewind Books, 2011.

Ages: 11+

It is 1906 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the world has just come to an end; the world of Jackson Leong and his family at least. After their father’s death several months earlier, Jack, his older brother Lincoln, his two younger sisters, and their mother relocated from a farm in the Sacramento area to be near family in the bustling city. Now 16-year-old Lincoln, who “was big and tall and had quickly learned everything the family needed to know about their new hometown” has been killed in the aftermath of the great earthquake, leaving Jack to keep the family together while trying to manage the nickelodeon business his brother had begun. On top of all this, Jack’s “yin-yang eyes” see ghosts everywhere: and they seem to be trying to tell him something…

Read the full review

Read our interview with Paul Yee, in which he talks about The Secret Keepers.

Week-end Book Review: The Flute by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Pulak Biswas

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Pulak Biswas,
The Flute
Tradewind Books, 2011.

Ages 5-8

“Long ago and far away” begins this beautifully written story from the pen of award-winning writer Rachna Gilmore, transporting her young readers to the realms and codes of magic that may be familiar to them in fairy-tales.  The hope that, in the vein of fairy-tale, whatever bad things happen along the way, all will come well in the end, will help them to empathise all the more with the young Chandra’s trials and tribulations.

A terrible flood carries away little Chandra’s parents, after they have put her in a tree to keep her safe and given her the flute her mother loved to play.   When the waters recede, her aunt and uncle reluctantly take her in but treat her cruelly and even throw the flute into the river (the aunt’s malignant smile in the illustration here will chill the heart of any reader).  Without it, Chandra feels more alone than ever but stoically carries out her gruelling daily chores through the harsh winter and scorching summer.  Then one day, she hears a flute filling the air with music of hope, comfort and love – and food magically appears before her.  When her aunt and uncle find out, their only thoughts are for themselves; and when the monsoon arrives, they force her to stay in the river rather than joining them on the safe high ground.  This potentially cataclysmic act of cruelty is actually the catalyst for change that Chandra needs for her happily-ever-after.  Her hopes, as well as the hope of young readers who have been willing for a happy ending, are fulfilled.

Accompanying Gilmore’s narrative are Pulak Biswas’ stunning illustrations.  Using only blocks of primary color, texture and detail are created through the overlying black.  The varying moods of the familiar river and the clouds bringing the monsoon, or the gentle wave of musical notes creeping in at the top of the page all convey the atmosphere of the story.  The illustrations root the story solidly in the Indian setting alluded to in the text, such as the monsoon and Chandra herself, named after the moon.

In a world where young people have great awareness of natural disasters and difficulties around the world, The Flute is a very special book that combines a timeless quality with a particular relevance to today’s children.

Marjorie Coughlan
February 2012