Friday, September 23, 2016

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y. K. Choi | Book Review

TITLE: Kay's Lucky Coin Variety
AUTHOR: Ann Y. K. Choi
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Touchstone / 2016
SOURCE: Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s.

This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence.

A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.

Thoughts and Reactions
Every once in awhile I come across a book that I want to share; that I want to talk about even though I've basically given up on this blog. I haven't posted in over a year! The issue is that I don't want to review books. I don't want to send my opinion out into the ether. I want to discuss them. I want to share the stories that have touched my life and hear about the ones that have touched yours. I haven't been posting here because that's not what this blog turned into for me. I was worried about numbers and comments and writing the right kind of review and posting about every book I read. That wasn't fun and I had to step away. All that having been said, Kay's Lucky Coin Variety made me want to post again. It's a book that moved me and one that tells a story that not only deserves, but needs to be told. It's a book I want everybody else to pick up and read. 

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety is set in Toronto in the 1980s and explores the life of a Korean Canadian teenager's, Mary (born Yu-Rhee but renamed by an elementary school principle), coming of age, balancing two cultures and sets of expectations and trying to find herself within them. I read this book slowly, it wasn't one I wanted to devour all in one sitting and I think that's a good thing. I had to put it down , walk away and think every once in awhile. Trying to put why I love this book into words is proving to be a challenge right now actually. 

Choi's writing is so captivating. I, as the reader, could feel Mary's struggle. Sure there were times I couldn't help but think something along the lines of my god you are such a petulant child right now, but she was; she was a teenager trying to carve out her own place. I could empathize so easily with Mary, being caught between two cultures and wanting to succeed in each in some way. She immigrated from Korea as a young child and remembers very little of the country; Toronto is her home, but she stands out. She isn't white, her parents run a convenience store and the values she is raised with at home are at times at odds with what she hears in the dominant culture. There's a constant push and pull within Mary wanting something else for her life, something outside of the convenience store her family owns, but also feeling trapped by her obligations and knowledge that her parents have worked so hard and moved so far, in part for her. 

Choi also renders such a realistic mother daughter relationship that there are points that I definitely low key wept while reading. Mary wants different things in life from her mother and sees her mother as an impediment to her dreams at times. Watching their relationship evolve and gain new understanding as she matures is both beautiful and heartbreaking. 

I know I haven't expressed all that I should or all that this book made me feel. I really think everybody, especially those in Canada, should read it. There has been a lack of Asian Canadian literature for far too long, as pointed out by Mary's longing in the book to read something not by an Asian Canadian and to learn about Asian culture, science, history in school. It's a theme carried through the book, the invisibility of Asian culture in Canada despite there being such a large Asian Canadian population, and it is true today. This is the first Korean Canadian book I have come across and Ann Y. K. Choi is a voice that should be heard. Her writing is captivating and I look forward to reading any future novel she writes. 

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