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Review of Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
edited by Mitali Perkins
Middle School, High School     Candlewick     127 pp.
9/13     978-0-7636-5866-3     $15.99     g
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-6719-1     $15.99

In her preface to this nicely compact collection, Perkins suggests that humor can help smooth the way in discussions about  race — if it’s used carefully, laughing with, not at. Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang’s autobiographical contribution brings up a touchy subject — the use of white actors to portray Asians and Inuits in the film The Last Airbender — and manages to find  something funny about it. In Cherry Cheva’s story, an Asian girl and Jewish boy take hilarious not-very-PC jabs at each other while nervously waiting to audition for a talent show. Indian American Perkins’s account of her girlhood in California amid “a sea of whiteness” would be painful to read if not for the constant jokes. (When the cafeteria Trekkies invite her to be their  brown-skinned Uhura, she briefly considers saying yes — apparently, “Spock was hot.”) In G. Neri’s poem, a biracial girl visits Berlin with her family; her African American dad — all Southern charm — likes to clear seats for them on the subway by politely squeezing in between older German women, who squirm for a bit then “bust a move for the door.” Francisco X. Stork’s story features a Mexican American teen who, in a moving yet comical conversation with his sister, worries about his dad’s reaction to having a gay son. Naomi Shihab Nye offers an eloquent poem about her Arab American dad, whose open friendliness made him “Facebook before it existed.” David Yoo, Debbie Rigaud, Varian Johnson, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich also contribute stories to this noteworthy anthology, which robustly proves Perkins’s assertion that “funny is powerful.”

From the September/October 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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