Book Review: 'The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling' by Wai Chim
*Trigger Warnings: Mental Illness, Suicide
Anna Chiu is a typical high schooler to everyone else. Only she and her family know what’s really going on at home. Her mom hasn’t gotten out of bed in months and her dad spends all of his time at their restaurant, leaving Anna to take care of her younger siblings. Anna’s father hires a new delivery boy, Rory, and Anna finally thinks she can have some semblance of a normal upbringing. However, when her mom finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse and Anna is left with more responsibility than she can manage.
"The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling" was surprising indeed. I went into it without reading the book jacket summary, and was immediately drawn into the depth of the story. I was expecting a typical young adult romance about a girl who struggles to balance school, her family obligations, and a budding relationship. Instead, I read an enthralling story that examined loyalty, identity, and mental health.
I could relate to Anna and her need to protect her family. I felt for her as she watched her mother’s condition worsen, and had hope for her when she found a solid support system through Rory. The romance aspect was a bit lacking and I would hesitate to call this a young adult romance novel. Rather, it was a bittersweet story about a young woman who has been thrust into a new role of responsibility and her journey to recognizing she cannot do it alone.
I appreciated the use of Jyutping throughout the novel. While I am not a Cantonese speaker, I enjoyed getting to read the Cantonese words and phrases used by Anna and her family. It added to their dynamic and helped me understand their relationships. I also appreciated the depictions and discussions of racism and microaggressions. There were only a few and did not overpower the story, but did add another layer to show what Anna and her family endure as Chinese-Australians.
Lastly, the conversation and theme of mental health throughout the story was incredible. Wai Chim showed multiple layers and perspectives when it comes to mental health. Not all of the characters were willing to even acknowledge that mental health was important while others were acutely aware of the power of mental health and therapy. Like in the real world, the story didn’t have a nice, fairy-tale ending. Instead, it reminded me that life can be hard, and we must persevere and keep fighting for what we love.
Overall, this was a great story about mental health and support that also offered representation and validation for Asian readers.
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