FIONA CHENG IS half and half: Her father is Chinese and her mother is Scottish. Fiona looks more like her father than her mother, so people always expect her to be more interested in her Chinese half than her Scottish half. Lately even Fiona's confused about who she really is.A realistic, gentle and funny tale. Detroit News Free PressReaders will identify with Fiona's struggle to fit in. Publishers WeeklyFrom the Hardcover edition.
Likable 11-year-old Fiona Cheng narrates Namioka's (Ties That Bind, Ties That Break; Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear) novel about coping with a racially mixed heritage. When Fiona must check off her race on an enrollment form for a class at the local recreation center, she has trouble fitting herself into the boxes. "I'm half and half," she explains to readers, "my father is Chinese and my mother is Scottish," and she balks at checking "other" ("It would make me feel like an outsider, a weirdo who didn't belong anywhere"). Despite Fiona's objections to neat categorizations, the author's characterizations of Fiona (she looks Chinese but likes Scottish dancing) and of her brother (he looks mostly white but enjoys kung-fu) at times seem a bit too symmetrically flip-flopped. As a folk festival approaches, Fiona faces a dilemma-should she participate in the Scottish dancing (in a troupe directed by her grandfather) or attend her author/artist father's presentation of his Chinese-inspired children's books, scheduled for the same time slot? Readers will identify with Fiona's struggle to fit in and the comic (if familiar) stunts she attempts (e.g., dyeing her hair, with unwanted results). The conflicts can feel artificial, and the narrative sometimes lacks immediacy, as Fiona tends to recount character traits and background rather than letting these unfold dynamically. While many will cheer Fiona as she reconciles appearances and family pressures, the conclusion feels obvious. Ages 8-12. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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November 08, 2004
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Excerpt from Half and Half by Lensey Namioka
one “Your form isn’t complete, Fiona,” said the recreations director. “I can’t let you enroll in the folk dancing class until it’s completely filled in.” The recreation center is located at a park not far from my school. For years the center had been used for adult education classes, such as pottery and language lessons. Recently the building was remodeled and expanded, and they started having classes for young people, too. When I heard there were folk dancing classes, I immediately went over to enroll. I had never filled out one of their forms before, and I didn’t know what the director meant by the form not being completely filled in. I looked it over again. Name:Fiona Cheng Age:11 Address:2134 Hillside Blvd. E. Seattle, WA Class:Folk Dancing It looked good to me. “You didn’t check a box for race,” she said. “To get government funding, we have to let them know how many kids we have in each of the race categories.” This was a problem I’d bumped into before, but I still wasn’t sure how to handle it. I took the form from her. “I’ll finish it later,” I muttered, and quickly left the recreation center. On the way home, I tried to decide on the best way to complete the form. I had to check one of the boxes that said, “White,” “Asian,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” “Native American,” or “Other.” None of them would be right, though, because I’m not any one of those things. I’m half and half: my father is Chinese and my mother is Scottish. I couldn’t just check either “White” or “Asian” since I’m half of each. I suppose I could have checked the box for “Other,” but I didn’t want to. It would make me feel like an outsider, a weirdo who didn’t belong anywhere. I wanted to fit in like everyone else. Why didn’t they have a box for people like me, who were half and half? When I got home, Mom was in the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of tea. She teaches math at the university, so she’s often home in the afternoon. She drinks tea instead of coffee, even though we live in Seattle, the nation’s coffee capital. Tea is cheaper than coffee since you can use the tea bag over again. You see, Mom is very thrifty. She says it’s because a mathematician’s aim when proving a theorem is to use as little as possible to prove as much as possible. In other words, you always spend a teeny bit to get a whole lot. After doing this for years and years, you wind up being ver-r-r-y thr-r-r-ifty. I took a seat at the kitchen table. “Mom, what am I?” I asked. She frowned. “What do you mean? You’re Fiona Cheng, last time I looked.” “I’m not asking you who I am,” I said. “I’m asking you what I am.” “What brought this on?” asked Mom, sipping her tea and looking at me over the rim of the cup. I think she suspected that the problem had something to do with our family being racially mixed. It’s not something the two of us often discuss. I told her about the form I had to fill out for the folk dancing class. Mom didn’t answer right away. The expression in her hazel eyes didn’t tell me much. “Why not check two boxes, one for ‘Asian’ and one for ‘White’?” she suggested after a while. “I don’t think they’ll accept that,&