osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in the world who's read Dori Jones Yang's The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, and certainly the only person who regularly rereads it, which is just too bad. It's so many things that I love in children's books, and think ought to be encouraged.

The story centers on the friendship between Jinna Zhang, a terribly shy, imaginative girl whose family has just immigrated from China, and Priscilla Ronquillo, her awkward, talkative classmate. When Jinna arrives in America, she vows that she'll become a new Gina in this new environment: confident and outspoken.

But at school, she can't speak. She can't force any sound through her mouth. It's as if, Jinna thinks, someone had put a metal band around her throat, the way fishermen put metal bands around cormorants' throats in China.

Fortunately for Jinna, her lonely classmate Priscilla decides to befriend her. Priscilla is as loud as Jinna is shy. She talks and talks and talks, all the time - one reason why her classmates don't much like her; and she's prone to outbursts of violent temper, too, though never at Jinna. Despite her rough edges, she's just what Jinna needs, and they become great friends. Eventually Priscilla gets pulled into Jinna's imaginary games.

Jinna's fantasies, which center on the adventures of a character called the Princess, form a counterpoint to the real-life story: indirectly mirroring it, commenting on it, but never reduced to nothing but a reflection of Jinna's real life.

Jinna's fantasies were the big draw for me when I first read this book. I loved reading about a girl who lived as much in her head as I do, and I loved it even more because she was in other ways so foreign to me: a Chinese immigrant, living on the West Coast. And Priscilla's determined attempts to befriend her delighted me: who doesn't like to imagine other people going to such lengths to make friends? (Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way in real life.)

And rereading it now, I notice other things I like. The book features a protagonist of color - okay, obviously as a child I noticed Jinna was Chinese; but I didn't notice that almost all her classmates were of color, too. Or rather, I did, but I didn't realize that this was unusual. It's very matter-of-factly established, because it's a perfectly natural result of the Seattle setting: there's no artificial, PBS special feel to the multiculturalism.

The world could use more books like that. It's a pity I'm the only person in the world who read this one.

***

In other book news, I'm thinking about getting a bookshelf for my apartment: something long and low, to go beneath my front window. I've never bought a bookshelf before! So exciting!

Date: 2012-08-21 12:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com
If you are the only person in the world to have read it, we can only conclude that Dori Jones Yang is very happy to have so pleased her one reader.

You've made me want to read it too; I'll put it on my to-read list.

Date: 2012-08-21 01:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] osprey-archer.livejournal.com
I hope you can find it! I've seen it floating around used bookstores occasionally.

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