Charlie Wong has led a sheltered life in New York's Chinatown. At 22, she still lives at home with her father and her younger sister, Lisa. Thanks to her father, the best noodle maker in Chinatown, she has a job washing dishes at the restaurant where he works. But Charlie is clumsy and washing dishes for a living certainly isn't her passion. Her late mother was once a star ballerina in Beijing, but Charlie must have taken after her father because she has not an ounce of her mother's grace, or does she?
Thanks to an ad Lisa sees in the paper, Charlie lands a new gig as a receptionist at a dance studio. Wearing her aunt's hand-me-down bras and baggy clothes, she's nowhere near as glamorous as the dancers at the studio, but she loves being around them. Unfortunately, Charlie is no better as a receptionist than she was a dishwasher. Luckily, someone at the studio sees her potential as a dancer.
I loved Charlie's time at the studio. It was light and carefree in comparison to the issues she dealt with at home. As the eldest daughter of a man that spends most of his time in Chinatown, it's Charlie's responsibility to deal with the world outside of Chinatown. She's the person that oversees Lisa's homework, deals with her teachers and fights for Lisa's chance to attend a prestigious school. She's also the one person that questions her father's undying loyalty to her Uncle Henry, a doctor specializing in Chinese medicine. It's true that Uncle Henry and Aunt Monica have helped her family out, but the way her father accepts his advice without any question puts Lisa in danger and Charlie is the only one that realizes just how much danger.
Jean Kwok is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I appreciate that Mambo in Chinatown keeps one foot in the dreamy world of "will the girl get the guy and win while doing so" and the other foot in the realistic world of what life is like for the children of immigrants. Charlie's world is a little off-balanced overall, but thanks to Kwok's writing, she manages to find the balance in both and her happy ending.
Published: June 2014
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.