The only reason why I read this book was because it was required for the Heavy Medal duo
Nina and Sharon's Mock Newbery
. I admit I began this book with some trepidation because:
1) as shown by the "scary sketches" drawn on the wasabi-green and denim blue cover, it's a boy book, usually not my thing
2) it was found in the Easy Reader section, again not my thing, as I prefer to read YA and older middle grade
3) it was a contemporary setting, so not my thing as I prefer science fiction/fantasy and historical fiction
The first page begins with a list of Alvin's fears ranging from elevators to substitute teachers to kimchi (a Korean dish even though Alvin is Chinese American) to wasabi (a Japanese seasoning even though Alvin is Chinese American) to school. While reading the second page, I started laughing as Alvin goes on to describe what he loves: explosions and super heroes (including the Green Lantern and Henry V). By the end of the first chapter, I am hooked. The voice of Alvin is so believably funny, and the diverse cast of characters, including his older brother Calvin (rhymes with Alvin) and pesky little singing sister and a classroom partner Flea (who wears an eye patch and limps like a pirate), bring a fresh quirkiness to the world of Alvin Ho. In a way this book reminds me of Clementine
by Sara Pennypacker but just a tad stranger.
As a Chinese American reader, I appreciated how the core conflict of this story is not relentlessly focused on an immigration story or some Asian American 101 child-of-immigrants identity-issue-driven story. The core conflict transcends racial issues--Alvin Ho is "allergic" to school because he is scared of many, many things. The illustrations by LeUyen Pham serve to remind the reader that while Alvin is obviously very American, he still looks like a Chinese American and different from his classmates. In addition, the author Look scatters many cultural details (food is the big one) throughout the narrative to give the flavor of a Chinese American lifestyle.
Some of the very minor Chinese American cultural details did not ring true to my own experience. The Chinese American boys I knew growing up pretended to be Superman or Batman vs. Firecracker Man, and I personally never had afternoon snack consisting of rice crackers with tea as a child because we ate sandwiches made with Kraft single cheese product slices and drank juice. Then again, many details found in Amy Tan's fiction did not directly relate to my personal history, as the Chinese American experience is quite broad in range. In the end I am willing to overlook these small details that distracted me from the story of Alvin Ho because of the overall strong and engagingly humorous voice.Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
is a fabulously funny read that should appeal to a wide range of American kids regardless of their ethnic heritage.