Thursday, January 19, 2017

Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu


Rating: WORTHY!

Paris is one of three siblings, the others being older sister Verona and even older brother Athens. They're a Chinese family living in the USA. Their father fixes up houses and when he's done with the one in which they're currently living, he moves the whole family to a new fixer-upper and starts over. Paris hates this life. She hates even more the podunk village they just moved to.

The children were all named after cities because their idiot parents figured this would inspire them to go places, but this made no sense to me. The family is repeatedly presented as a traditionally Chinese one, yet not one of the cities was one in China? This was one of many issues I had with the Chinese angle of this story.

We're often told to write what we know, but we would have a very dull library if everyone did that. Stephen King never met any of his horrors, ghosts, psycho schoolgirls, or vampires. George Lucas never fought any Star Wars. Suzanne Collins never competed in any post-apocalyptic Hunger Games. The truth is that you don't have to write what you know! In fact, it's actually better if you don't, unless you happen to have led a really amusing, exciting, unusual, or adventurous life. As long as you make what you write sound plausible within its context, I'm good with it. It doesn't even have to be authentic as long as it's not idiotic!

I think this might be where this author went wrong with this book, because at lot of it felt like it was semi-autobiographical and the author seemed to be having difficulty with interleaving it effectively into a USA milieu. Maybe she was writing about some of own experiences, maybe she wasn't, but in trying to present a US family from Chinese roots, I think some things got lost in the translation.

Talking of which, the biggest annoyance was having Paris's parents speak pigeon English. This sounded condescending at best and racist at worst. Yes, I get that there are people who speak like that, but I didn't see how this contributed to the story. There was nothing in the novel (if there was I missed it) to suggest that the Pan family had just moved here from China, and there are better ways of portraying a language issue without making the speakers come off as lazy, incompetent or stupid. None of the kids had the slightest issue with English, indicating that the family had been here all their lives. This doesn't mean the parents had of course, but it made the difference between kids and parents glaring. This was a discrepancy which called for some sort of acknowledgement if not explanation, yet it was never raised in the story for any purpose.

The parents names are not given except for one reference to "Frank" - the dad. Now Frank is not a Chinese name and while Asians all-too-often adopt western names to make life easier on us klutzy westerners, and to whom subtlety of language is an alien concept for most people, especialyl in an age of lowest common denominator Internet chat and texting, Asians do have original names, so why would mom call dad Frank unless that really was his name? If he was actually named Frank, he wasn't born in China. Or maybe he was and the author was very confused. Like I said, there were better ways she could have written this.

It was not just in their language either. There are other ways in which they were portrayed as idiots. One was the constant moving of houses. It made no sense and was never explained. If it had been making them a fat wad of money, I could see a reason for it, but it wasn't! If this was their father's business, fine, but why not do this in a larger city where there are more houses to work on and no need to move the family miles away? On top of this, dad was portrayed as a heart attack waiting to happen and even when it did happen, he learned nothing from it. Idiot!

That aside, I really liked the Paris story, even though she was also portrayed as an idiot for a while. She was so desperate to make friends that she essentially became a performing dog for the alpha girl in her class, but she did wise-up in the end, and I loved the ending, especially the pro-active part Paris took in her own destiny. I'm just sorry it took her so long, but I liked her as a character, and I liked her brother and sister. I'm sorry we didn't get more of the relationship with Robin, the shy, outcast girl. That could have been a story to rival the one we did get.

The story involved the death of a girl of Paris's age (twelve), which occurred almost thirty years before. Paris, it turns out, is living in the house the girl once occupied, but her body was found in a creek bed out in the woods a couple of years after she vanished. We never do get an explanation of how the girl died, but Paris is so spooked by all the rumors that she starts thinking that the girl's ghost is maybe trying to contact her from "the other side"! Call me a science nerd, but I was really thrilled to see how the author provided a perfectly prosaic explanation for all the "supernatural" experiences Paris had. That was a real joy to read and is why, overall I recommend this as a worthy read for middle-graders.


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