Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
It’s been many years since I was twenty-two, and I’m not ABC (American-born Chinese), and I’ve never had to choke down a traditional medicine brewed from the intimate body parts of strange animals to please a parent, but Charlie Wong is the kind of character it’s easy to relate to. Clumsy, imperfect, and devoted to her father and brilliant but troubled younger sister Lisa, Charlie has been working long hours as a dishwasher when Mambo in Chinatown opens, hoping for a chance at a better life.
That opportunity comes when Lisa shows Charlie a want ad posted by a dance studio looking for a receptionist. It’s the kind of job Charlie has failed at before, organization and reading are big challenges for her, but she is determined to try even harder to succeed this time. Her mother, who died several years before, had been a star soloist with the Beijing Ballet back in China and Charlie is hoping that being around dancers will ease the pain of missing her.
Charlie has to hide most details about her new job from her gentle, protective father, a man not comfortable with American ways, and things don’t exactly go as planned at the studio, but just as Charlie starts spreading her wings her sister Lisa begins having some frightening and confusing health problems. Charlie struggles to balance respect for her father’s Chinese values with her rapidly changing life and perspectives, and Lisa’s illness brings that conflict out in the open.
The pleasures of this novel include a little romance, a lot of dance--the author knows her way around a dance floor and that adds fun to the story--and the dual Chinatown and dance studio settings, with richly detailed cultures and a full range of characters for both worlds. Even secondary characters are given motivations, back stories, and personalities that tug at the heart.