23 Jan / The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma [in Booklist]
In January 2015, 18-year-old Shelley (sporting the name bequeathed by a beloved English teacher) leaves home in “the most beautiful realm in all of China.” His father can no longer ignore the unprovoked abuse Shelley endures from their extended family and finally fulfills his promise to Shelley’s late mother to send their only son “away from this unhappy life and into a brighter world.”
Relying on the titular Chinese groove that links even strangers as long as backgrounds overlap, Shelley lands in San Francisco to start anew with a “conveniently rich” uncle. That “uncle” turns out to be second-cousin-once-removed Ted, who picks him up in a “crapmobile,” stops by Costco, and arrives at a modest “saltbox” to a party (not for Shelley) in progress. Ted’s not-Chinese Jewish wife, Aviva, has already set a two-week limit for Shelley occupying the sagging downstairs sofa.
Shelley prevails through English classes, boarding-house woes, homelessness, illegal green-bean prepping, elder-, child-, and dog-care, app development, and more. While reconnecting broken bonds, Shelley succeeds in accomplishing the “Three Achievables … Family, Love, Fortune,” albeit eventually and not particularly resembling his initial expectations.
Balancing humor and poignancy with seemingly effortless ease, Kathryn Ma (The Year She Left Us, 2014) is a magnificent storyteller.