Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee (Review)

bigWOWO Rating: Asian American Silver

I’m continuing my reading YA Asian American Lit.  Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee was my latest reading.  It is a YA book about a teenage Korean American boy and his twin sister who move from California to Minnesota with their parents to take over their uncle’s store.  The story is told from the first person perspective of the boy, Chan, who adjusts to his new all-White high school by playing and excelling at football.  He befriends the principal’s son, becomes a jock, and adjusts to his new surroundings while struggling with the common high school themes of popularity, girls, and parental relationships.

This was a bold work.  This book was published way back in 1996 before the internet exploded, and many of the themes that Lee included in the book–IR, generational issues, stereotypes–were not as well known from the Asian American perspective when it was written (Frank Chin wrote about such issues during the 70’s, but without the internet, there wasn’t much distribution of such information).  Lee took a huge leap of courage in writing this book, and it was as activist as any AA book I’ve read.  Lee herself was one of the founders of the Asian American Writers Workshop.

The story itself was bumpy.  Although Chan is a boy, you can tell that the story was written by a female–Chan is female-sensitive in some areas, he has a very girlish crush on a female classmate, and the character doesn’t say much about the physical changes and insecurities that boys his age usually go through.  The story itself was also a bit asymmetrical; it takes a strange turn around 75% of the way through and never recovers its original footing.

That said, this was a bold piece of writing, perhaps one of the first YA novels for and about Asian Americans.  Marie Lee’s book was an early work in a relatively new genre for ethnic readers, and it’s worth checking out.  I could easily see other Asian American YA authors finding inspiration in her work.

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