By Michelle James, Adoptive Mother
I happened upon this book in Walmart, and intrigued by the young Asian man on the cover, I picked it up. I’m the mom of a 12-year-old Vietnamese boy, and Asian adult role models are rare. As I read the blurb on the back of the book I was further intrigued to learn that the author is a famous You-Tuber (the very profession to which my son aspires) and the book is about overcoming adversity (a perfect topic for every middle schooler).
I pre-read the book since I was completely unfamiliar with the author, Ryan Higa, and it is definitely not for any child under the age of twelve. Mr. Higa uses lots of bad language. I reminded my son that he is mature enough to read bad words without repeating them, and we have not had any issues. The author also writes candidly about using weight loss drugs when he was on the wrestling team in high school. He does make it clear that it was a mistake and discourages kids from following his example.
That being said, my son has really enjoyed this book. He was less than enthused at first, given the title, but I assured him it really wasn’t about writing but more about this You-Tuber’s life story. It’s very readable, with cartoons and graphics mixed into the text, and the humor is spot on for a tween boy. My son has read the book through once and is now reading it again. He likes to tell us about the funny parts, such as “the stereotypical Asian parent grading scale” where “A stands for Average. B stands for Better try harder. C stands for Care for an a** whooping? D stands for Don’t come home,” and “F stands for Forgiveness . . . as in, Forgive me, for I have murdered my child.”
The book has also been a great conversation starter for us. We’ve talked about the author’s drug use and about his being called a “chink” even though he wasn’t even Chinese. (Higa is native Hawaiian.) My son, thankfully, had never heard the word “chink,” but I’m sure he’ll hear it eventually, and maybe he won’t feel as isolated knowing others have gone through the same thing.
My son and I have also talked a lot about Higa’s use of humor to “disarm” those who tried to bully him. Higa writes very candidly about being an Asian kid in a mostly white school and how he was bullied to the point that he felt suicidal. Higa ended up dealing with the bullies by using humor. He noticed that all the kids would laugh at the things the bullies said and did. He learned to turn the humor around so the kids were laughing at the bullies instead. I don’t think this strategy would actually work for every child, but even so it’s a great place to start the conversation about strategies to deal with bullying. My son is something of a comedian, and he really enjoyed reading about Higa’s eventual victories over the bullies.
Higa also stresses the gift of perspective. He encourages kids to remember that middle school and high school don’t last forever, even though it feels like it sometimes. YouTube didn’t even exist when he was in middle school, so he never could have imagined the turns his life would take.
My son has really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it for adopted Asian kiddos ages twelve and up. Read it and talk about it – you might be surprised what’s going on in your kid’s head!