Title: April and the Dragon Lady
Author: Lensey Namioka
Publisher: Browndeer Press
Genre: YA fiction, realistic fiction, Chinese-American families
Recommended Age: Young Adult
Summary: April has always been a dutiful granddaughter, though she knows that she comes last in her traditional Chinese-American family. It’s April’s brother Harry who is the apple of their grandmother’s eye, the honored grandson who will carry on the family name and honor his Chinese ancestors. When April starts to date Steve, an all-American classmate who shares her love of geology and is brave enough to try even the most exotic traditional Chinese food, she begins to realize how difficult it is to be stay true to her family’s traditional views while trying to become independent. While April has always considered herself an American, she finds herself having trouble reconciling her American ideals with her grandmother’s Chinese views. She wants to be the best granddaughter she can be but she also wants more than the strict roles laid out for Chinese girls.
Evaluation: This novel is an authentic representation of the tensions experienced by teens navigating the border between two cultures. In addition, the novel provides an excellent portrayal of the gendered roles associated with boys and girls in Chinese culture, as well as the ideals of filial piety and reverence of age. Grandmother Chen represents a powerful force in the family; her position in the family highlights the bonds between the generations in Chinese families and the emphasis on honoring one’s elders and caring for them in their old age. The novel’s depiction of family, traditional values and gender illustrates the challenges faced by Chinese-American girls who want to stay true to their culture while striving for the American ideal of independence.
Personal Response: I felt that the novel accurately portrays the experience of being a bicultural teen who wants to stay true to the family’s culture while also identifying with the dominant culture. April’s difficulties with her grandmother resonated with my own experience as a granddaughter. Hispanic families often look after their elders and live in multi-generational homes, so the Chen’s experience of living with a somewhat difficult elder reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother. I think this is a book that will appeal to many teens who find themselves in similar situations.
Suggested Extension Activities: One of the main themes in April and the Dragon Lady is balancing bi-cultural identity, making it a great selection for a program on multiculturalism and “hyphenated” Americans. The book can be part of a reading list featuring a selection of YA works that raise awareness of hyphenated, bi-cultural lives in the United States (Asian-American, Hispanic-American, etc.).
To encourage awareness of bicultural identity, the library can also select a month to celebrate biculturalism and feature programs, such as movie viewings and book clubs, to support understanding of the experience of being part of more than one culture.