Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Read: 3 September, 2018

I really enjoyed this. It’s your normal coming-of-age story about going to camp for the first time and having trouble adjusting, but with the special twist of coming from an immigrant experience. Vera is a first generation Russian immigrant whose language is half in/half out, going through all those painful third culture kid problems.

I really enjoyed being able to share this with my son, who is a second generation immigrant. It’s hard to explain what being a third culture kid is like, but books like these really help.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Read: 8 February, 2016

American Born Chinese tries to capture the experience of being a third culture kid, particularly one who visibly stands out from the culture that surrounds them. The story is told in three separate narratives that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other until the very end, where they all collide and it turns out that they were all part of the same story from the beginning.

The story is one of shame, of trying to change in order to fit in, and of the feelings of anger toward others who are the same but don’t seem to experience the same shame.

The story was quite well told, and I found it easy to grasp the main character’s pain and the reasons for his lashing out. The artwork meshed well with the story, though I didn’t find it particularly appealing on its own.

I was glad that the focus was on the inner struggle, and included the lashing out that is so often a part of that. It would have been easy to make Jin more perfect, to make the story all about the things done to him (like the bullying that features prominently near the beginning of his story). But instead, the story looks at his experiences and his reactions, and we see him turn around almost immediately and say terrible things to someone else.

Jin’s behaviour is frequently atrocious, but it does feel real, and I found that I could easily empathize (especially as a third cutlure kid myself – though without the added ethnic component) with what he was going through.

I think the book would be best for kids around grade 7-10, particularly as part of a larger discussion on the immigrant experience. I also think that people who grew up as third culture kids might benefit from the book, if only as a cathartic “yes! That’s what I felt like!” sort of experience.

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