The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
About the book
Anna Chiu has her hands full looking after her siblings and helping out at her dad's restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad's new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren't right at home, she's starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.
But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum's condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family.
About the author
Wai Chim is a first-generation Chinese-American from New York City. She grew up speaking Cantonese at home and absorbing Western culture through books, TV and school. She spent some time living in Japan before making Sydney, Australia, her permanent home. Her previous books include the 'Chook' series and 'Shaozhen', part of the 'Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zone' series. Her novel 'Freedom Swimmer' was shortlisted for the inaugural Readings Young Adult Book Prize and the Sakura Medal, and was a Children's Book Council Notable Book. In addition to writing, Wai works as a digital producer for Starlight Children's Foundation.
Anna Chiu's mother suffers from mental illness and Anna is often required to take on parental duties and care for her younger brother and sister, Lily and Michael. Their father is in denial and refuses to recognise that his wife's illness is serious, even when she retreats to her bedroom for months at a time. The issue of mental illness is well-handled and the depiction of the perceived stigma of mental health in families with an Asian background is culturally sensitive.
The family runs a restaurant and the presence and importance of food runs throughout this book. Beyond the actual nourishment that food supplies, there is a real feeling throughout the book of the non-physical, almost spiritual nourishment gained from consuming food served by family and eaten with the family.
Anna is an endearing and nuanced character. She is determined and resilient, coping with bullying and racism. She is also trying to straddle two cultures and dealing with the complexities of being the family's main carer, while also expected by her father to be submissive. Anna is the one the younger children call on when something goes wrong at home and sometimes the responsibility is overwhelming and there are times when Anna simply wants to be a 'normal' teenager. Schoolwork can also be a problem as she copes with the other demands on her time but her friendship with Rory helps with that as he supports her homework with Walt Whitman and Shakespeare.
Trust is another strong theme throughout the book as Anna's father must learn to trust her, Rory develops sufficient trust in Anna to reveal his own background and Anna must learn to trust all those around her to give her support and for her to acknowledge that she can gradually allow others to take over some of the responsibilities she has been burdened with.
The book also celebrates love in its many forms. Anna loves her family, despite all the challenges that brings, she loves the family's restaurant and wants it to succeed and she loves the other workers in the restaurant—workers who give her support and affection in return. These peripheral characters are all strongly drawn and some, like Ah Jeff, provide moments of comic relief. Then there is Rory, her first boyfriend, who doesn't come from the same cultural background as she does but provides a loving relationship nonetheless.