Friday, June 08, 2007

Kimchi & Calamari

Kent, Rose. 2007. Kimchi & Calamari. 220 pages.

You wake up and you're fourteen. The world is your supersized soda waiting to be guzzled, right? Wrong. My birthday tasted more like Coke that went flat. Make that flat Coke with cookie crumbs from my little sister's backwash. Not that I planned on a lousy birthdya. After all, I'm Joseph Calderaro, eighth grade optimist. The bag of barbecue chips is always half full in my mind. As I searched for my Yankees T-shirt that morning, I tapped out my favorite band tune with my drumsticks. I was ready to hit the halls of Johansen Middle School bursting with I'm-all-that attitude. I couldn't wait to hear "Happy Birthday to Joseph" chants from cute girls in the hallway between classes. And of course, I expected to uphold my family's tradition of gorging on my favorite dinner. Fried calamari. Eggplant Parmesan. Chocolate cake with gobs of cannoli frosting. Even the whines from Gina and Sophie couldn't ruin that meal. Little did I know that my burned Pop-Tart breakfast would be a sign of trouble ahead. Or that the day's events would spiral downward, just like that pastry--from strawberry frosted and gooey good to black-on-the-bottome and smoking bad. (1-2)

Homework assignments are never least not through the eyes of an eighth-grader. But Joseph finds one assignment in particular to be extra-impossible. His social studies class is supposed to write a 1500 word essay on their ancestry. The problem? This "Italian" kid is Korean. He's adopted. Joseph would find it awkward to write about his Italian heritage--even though that is how he's been raised. He knows and loves his Italian-sized family. He loves the food. He loves the get togethers. He loves the traditions. But he also knows that it is sort've obvious to the rest of the world that he isn't Italian. But he finds it equally impossible to write about his Korean ancestors. He's adopted. He knows nothing except that he was found in front of a police station in Pusan. No names. No reasons. So he decides to bend the truth just a little. He researches Korea in the library and on the internet, chooses a famous Korean, and inserts him into the family tree. Soon, Joseph had a tangled web of lies that even Spiderman couldn't get out of. But some truths have to be told. Some words need to be said.

Through the course of Kimchi and Calamari Joseph begins to discover who he really is. And he makes peace with both his Korean and Italian ethnicity.

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