Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent 2007
IQ "People always used to think I'm Chinese; they think anyone with narrow eyes is. It used to bug me, but like Mom always says, you gotta get over the idiots in this world." Joseph pg. 43
Kimchi is a Korean dish that consists of vegetables, spices and is covered in sauce (I hope I'm getting that right, anyone who is Korean feel free to correct me in the comments, ETA: it's spicy fermented cabbage) and calamari is Italian for squid (which I never knew). Joseph Calderaro is Korean but he was adopted by two Italians who are very proud of their culture. They eat Italian food and speak in Italian. Joseph has never given much thought to his Korean heritage until his social studies teacher assigns an essay about ancestors. Joseph knows nothing about his Korean ancestors, but writing about his Italian ancestors won't feel as authentic to him. Thus Joseph embarks on his quest to find out about his Korean heritage and his Korean birth parents.
Kimchi & Calamari opens up with a few lines that will make you smile "You wake up and you're fourteen. The world is your supersized soda waiting to be guzzled, right? Wrong. My birthday tasted more like Coke that went flat." Interesting comparison but one that many kids would make (if we ever thought to compare the world to something). More than anything this book made me smile or laugh out loud a few times. Joseph is quite an entertaining narrator with a unique way of looking at the world while still remaining a genuine teen. He makes a lot of food comparisons and has a peculiar way of describing himself and others, along with things that he does and he's awesome because "I was born in Korea and my family is Italian, but I've got the soul of a reggae drummer." Ya man! Joseph is a drummer and I liked how he described band practice, with self-deprecating humor while still acknowledging the talent and hard work it takes to be in band.
The romance was sweet, though it grew to be predictable. Joseph and his friends are on a mission to find dates for the Farewell Formal and the result is both cute and amusing. All the minor characters are funny and while they do fall flat a few times, when they do reappear they are hilarious. Nash was my favorite secondary character (if you've read the book then you understand this word that best sums up Nash: potatoes! I was laughing so hard at this). Joseph's quest to find his birth mother is heart-warming, and I think all adoptees and those who have adopted will be able to relate to his story and recognize exactly how he feels. One of the best parts of the novel is that we learn a lot about Korea right along with Joseph. Joseph discovers Sohn Kee Chung (who is quite impressive and I recommend everyone read this book and then google him to learn more) as well as Korean food and Korean culture (no shoes in the house, Hangul, dojangs and more). Besides Korean culture, Italian culture is obviously a huge part of the novel was well. Joseph's Italian family seemed so warm and real. I wanted to meet all of them and eat some of his mom's calamari, spaghetti and risotto and sausage. There's also a mention of a corno (I had no idea what that was so I thought it was cool to learn about.I have lots of Italian friends and I'm curious if they themselves or their fathers/brothers, etc. wear a corno).
Kimchi & Calamari is a salivating read (seriously have some Korean/Italian food handy or better yet both because you will be hungry!) that will make you laugh and have you cheering Joseph on. Joseph makes some seemingly predictable and careless mistakes but everyone messes up and that is accurately portrayed here. Middle school readers will be able to relate to Joseph and his wacky friends. All readers will learn something about Korea and/or Italy and close this novel appreciating their own loving family (whether biological or not) and ethnic heritage. 6th grade and up
Disclosure: From the library