Don’t let the seasonal title fool you … this is one those sweet timeless stories about the adolescent need to belong. Peiling is American. Her parents, in spite of what their passports say, consider themselves Taiwanese. Like most 11-year-olds, Peiling wants to be just like everyone else. With the impending winter holidays, all the other kids are talking about Christmas. But that’s not a holiday that the Wang family ever celebrates.
This year, Peiling wants more than anything to experience the whole Christmas shebang. Somehow she manages to convince her reluctant parents to agree to the mistletoe, tree, stockings, and even hosting a traditional (American) holiday meal for the whole extended Wang clan … plus a surprise guest. But the celebration is not what Peiling expected: who marinates their turkey in ginger and soy sauce, puts longyan in their salads, sings karaoke instead of “Jingle Bells,” and plays mahjong on Christmas anyway?
Of course, Peiling will need a little help getting over her disappointments and frustrations. Good friends and caring teachers are always important, but so is one’s own sense of accomplishment, which Peiling gets to test in herself when she’s promoted from understudy to starring role in the upcoming school play.
In a little over a hundred pages, Chen manages to weave in multiple multicultural lessons, generational conflicts, issues with assimilation, challenging relationships in school, and even a budding romance. And while she might offend just a few conservative Christians over the complete secularization of a holy day, they can merely be reminded that such judgment might not be in the proper spirit.
Tidbit: I picked up Peiling last week because I was assigned Chen’s upcoming adult novel (sneak peek: WOW!) to review for one of my regular publications [I always try to read previous titles before writing reviews.]. For the adult market, Chen includes a middle initial – Pauline A. Chen – perhaps to distinguish herself from Pauline W. Chen who wrote the lauded Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality. Amazingly enough, both share Harvard and Yale credentials, as well as the Dr. title – PhD for A., medical for W. So many accomplished Pauline Chens out there indeed!
Readers: Middle Grade