Gish Jen's second novel is populated by characters who "switch" ethnicity almost as if they were changing their hairstyles. The main character, Mona Chang, whose parents were featured in Jen's first effort, Typical American
, acts Chinese for her American schoolmates and then converts to Judaism and becomes known as Changowitz. Then there's Naomi, a black woman who teaches Mona's Chinese-American sister about being Chinese. Jen's casual style and deftness with different voices make this a rich and compelling novel.
From Publishers Weekly
The rich stew of ethnic differences in America's melting pot provides robust fare in Jen's wickedly and hilariously observant second novel. In chronicling the coming-of-age of a refreshingly un-neurotic Chinese-American teenager, Jen casts an ironic eye on some of the hypocrisies of contemporary society, and her amusing insights illuminate several minority cultures. Mona Chang is in eighth grade in the late 1960s when her family moves to Scarshill, an affluent, mainly Jewish suburb of New York City. Her parents, upwardly mobile Helen and Ralph Chang, met in Jen's acclaimed first novel, Typical American. Smart, wisecracking Mona soon comes to the conclusion that "if you want to know how to be a minority, there's nobody better at it than the Jews," and she approves of Judaism's intellectual latitude and social activism. "American means being whatever you want, and I happened to pick being Jewish," Mona says. Her parents are appalled; by claiming the freedom to choose, Mona is violating what Jen presents as one of the basic rules of Chinese parent-child relationships. But being a "solo Jew" is only one of Mona's problems as she navigates the difficult shoals of adolescence as an ethnic and religious maverick as bewildered as any teenager by the mysteries of love and sex. Her tentative romances with a Japanese student and with a Jewish pseudointellectual dropout are also complicated by social idealism. When Mona and her boyfriend decide to move the black cook at the Changs' pancake restaurant into her best friend Barbara Guglestein's imposing house, the results are predictably droll. Jen matches intelligence with affectionate wit, narrative skill with firm knowledge of human nature.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.