Chloe Cho is tired of the Asian jokes, tired of people not knowing whether she’s Chinese or Japanese (she’s Korean), and tired of being compared to famous violinist Abigail Yang. She’s fed up with being the only Asian kid in school and her family being the only Asian family in town. Chloe is also tired of the way her parents avoid the subject of their Korean heritage. Whenever she asks about their childhood or about Korean culture or about how they came to America, all she gets are vague answers and a quick change of subject.
However, Chloe is about to find that things can get worse and that discovering more about her real heritage is more than she can handle: “‘Upset’ was so not the right word. There really wasn’t any one word that captured it all; only a phrase would do, like ‘head in a blender.'”
The writing style in this book is epitomized in that quote. It’s breezy, contemporary, and colloquial. Chloe is a sarcastic over-achiever, a drama queen, and prone to fly off the handle and YELL a lot. Nevertheless, as they say, “she has a good heart.” I wouldn’t understand or even like Chloe very much if I didn’t have a relative of my own who is very much like Chloe. Volcano-like, frequently erupting, then simmering down, the Chloes of this world can be difficult, but they can also be fiercely loyal and tenacious friends.
Unidentified Suburban Object has a lot to say about ethnic diversity and expectations and stereotypes, but it’s not a “heavy” novel. It’s funny, in a sarcastic way, and clever in so far as the plot twist at the center of the novel goes. I think kids will enjoy the story, the interesting shift in perspective, and the very realistic characters. And they might learn something about racism and self-acceptance in a non-threatening and subtle way—which is, of course, the best and most effective way to learn those lessons.