Sung J. Woo's first book, Everything Asian, is about a 12-year-old Korean boy, David (Dae Joon) Kim, who settles in New Jersey with his mother and older sister. They are reunited with David's father, who had left Korea five years earlier. Much of the story takes place in the mall where the family's shop is located. Here, David encounters and interacts with the other shopkeepers, some of whom are immigrants like himself. He has to learn how to survive in this new, strange land and at the same time, deal with his parents' struggle to live as a family again.
The book is basically a series of vignettes from David's childhood and reads more like a set of short stories featuring the same characters than a full-length novel. There are a few characters who are featured prominently in a chapter or two and then they disappear for the remainder of the book. As a result, I felt at the end that there were threads left hanging. I expect that the author could develop at least one of the subplots into a full novel of its own.
Unlike many novels about the Asian immigrant experience that I've read, this one isn't filled with sorrow and tragedy. Certainly, there are poignant moments and heavy topics (separation, betrayal, loss), but for the most part, this is a light-hearted, nostalgic look at how a child learns to adapt to living in his new country. Having spent much of my own childhood in my parents' Chinese restaurant (also in a suburban strip mall), this novel seemed comfortingly familiar.
When I first picked up this book, I had thought it was meant for younger readers, as the main character is a 12-year-old boy. However, there is some mature content, so I'd recommend this novel to older teen and adult readers.
Reviewed by Paulina