The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – Wai Chim – Allen and Unwin – Published 5 August 2019
Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.
But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.
This book caught my eye (seriously, how could I ignore that gorgeous cover), but I rushed to read it after learning I had the opportunity to meet the author. The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling celebrates the harsh complexity of family relationships, the love and hurt shared and the determination it takes to carry on. It celebrates community and friendship, the bond between sisters, and food. This book will have you hungry, so I highly recommend you have snacks on hand. It’s a bittersweet read, and one that is as authentic as it is honest and caring.
Anna Chiu cares for her family while her mother can’t bring herself to get out of bed and her father never comes home from working at their family restaurant. It is up to Anna to make sure her little brother gets to school and her sister knows to keep quiet about what happens at home. But the chance to work with her father at the restaurant means she can finally share the cooking skills and ideas she has and gives her the opportunity to get to know the new delivery boy, Rory. But when her mother does get out of bed, things spiral into manic midnight cleaning and angry tirades that Anna feels powerless to control.
This book doesn’t shy away from the authentic, messy details of real life, mental illness or it’s effect on families. It is honest and hopeful. It’s also not an easy book to read, despite it being so readable. It is challenging in parts, confronting and sad in others. But it doesn’t judge. It leaves room for understanding and acceptance.
Identity and culture and the hidden racism we don’t even think to consider are all examined in this book. How that impacts on how we view and deal with mental health is also considered. As Anna works at the restaurant and gets to know Rory, as Rory shares his history of depression, as she learns more about her parents’ relationship, she gets a better idea of what her mother is experiencing, the help that is available and the community that can support her. She must care for her siblings as well as for herself.
The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling is a moving story and an important voice in Australian YA fiction about culture and mental health.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Mental health, family, depression, food, cooking, Australia, Chinese culture, Chinese-Australians, siblings, romance.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: References to depression, mental illness, attempted suicide. Sexual references and implied sex scene, no details.
Published: 5 August 2019 by Allen and Unwin.
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook. 392 pages.