Book cover of Sue Cheung's Chinglish

March 15, 2021, by UoN School of English

Review: Chinglish by Sue Cheung

As the new year unfolds, to ‘read more’ is undoubtedly many of our new year’s resolution, mine included. However, for us English students this goal becomes far greater since we aim to read more content not related to our course. My personal challenge of this year being to read more works by BAME authors.

Having found my first novel of the year in a Facebook group of all places, “Chinglish” (Winner of the YA Diverse Book Award (2020)) is a witty, ‘entirely true’ story about the life of a young girl named Jo Kwan in the late 1980s. Written in a style reminiscent to Kinney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’, Jo whizzes through her crazy life (a goat explodes, I am not sure it can get crazier than that) living in a Chinese takeaway in the Midlands.

Going on to delve into heavier topics of racism and domestic violence, Chinglish inhabits a new take to the YA genre that ought to be noticed. Ideas of immigrant and ‘dual’ identities, cultural differences and micro-aggressions that even the most prolific of writers often fail to discuss. Cheung manages to capture the authenticity and seriousness of these issues that ethnic-minority communities face even in the modern day.

As someone that resonated with the character’s discussion of the British-Chinese identity, it was both a book that was at times relatable and nostalgic. It was heart-warming to be able to see such representation in the literary sphere that I would only have dreamed of as a child (and that is not me disrespecting Jacqueline Wilson). Whilst it may seem trivial and belittling for us to revert to a work that positions itself in the children’s literature realm, the simplicity of its address is what makes it successful. Thus, neglecting such a piece would be unfortunate since it strives to promote the diversity of works that are helping to shape the readership of upcoming generations.

I will admit that I struggle to read books for my own leisure, but as an easy-read that delves into friendships, family and culture I found it to be a great story. Fused with humour and intermingled with engaging illustrations, Chinglish is a book that should not be disregarded even if you are not Chinese or Asian. It is capable of offering so much more than a child’s narrative and so I encourage anyone to spare some time in giving a piece like this a chance.

I intend to read other works by BAME authors such as Kiley Reid’s ‘Such a Fun Age’, Souvankham Thammavongsa’s ‘How to Pronounce Knife’ and Paul Mendez’s ‘Rainbow Milk’ this year.

Trigger Warning: the novel deals with topics such as bullying, domestic abuse, animal abuse and racism. Please read with caution.

Ivy Chan is an English Language and Literature student at the University of Nottingham.

Image credit: Ivy Chan
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