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“It’s so nice and refreshing to hear people say what they mean and talk about their worries, anxieties, and feelings. Maybe one day, I’ll do the same,” Anna. -The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
by Wai Chim
Diverse Characters, LGBTQ
Anna Chiu strives to be a perfect Chinese daughter. However, Ma has been stuck in bed for longer than usual and her mental health is worsening. Anna’s Baba, who is supposed to be the parent, is spending more time at his restaurant. While the family struggles to keep Ma’s sickness a secret, Anna feels it is her responsibility to take care of her younger siblings, Michael and Lily, but she soon falls behind in her schoolwork. Will Anna realize she is taking on more than she can handle and accept that she and Ma need help?
To escape the pressures of home, Anna volunteers to help at Baba’s Chinese restaurant. There, she meets Rory, the delivery boy with a history of depression. With Rory’s help, Anna learns that treatment for her mom’s mental health is available and can help bring peace to the Chiu family. After a traumatic episode involving Ma mutilating a live fish, Ma is sent to a hospital for psychiatric care where doctors can evaluate her condition and prescribe medication. While her mother is under the doctor’s care, Anna can focus on her own mental health and she finds new ways to open up.
By the end of the novel, the family learns how to better support one another, and Anna eventually accepts that not every day can be perfect. Even Rory, who has received help for his depression and anxiety, has difficult days. The book delivers a message to those struggling with mental health issues that no one is alone and there is always someone willing to listen.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is told through Anna’s perspective and provides a realistic picture of mental health issues. Anna is a relatable character who struggles to fit in and at first, is awkward in her relationship with Rory. However, after witnessing Rory’s honest personality, Anna learns to discuss issues that are bothering her. Anna and Rory support and care for one another in a happy and healthy way. Anna is an admirable protagonist who loves her Ma and is passionate about working hard to save Baba’s restaurant. Plus, Anna shows love and encouragement to her younger siblings.
The novel demonstrates how race and struggles with identity can influence one’s mental health. As s Chinese-Australian, Anna experiences microaggressions from her peers and cultural pressures from her family. For example, the kids at Anna’s school call her “banana,” meaning she is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside. . . It’s like saying [Anna’s] a bad Chinese.” Anna soon recognizes how these pressures contribute to her anxiety. Despite this, these comments make Anna question whether she is good enough for her family.
In the end, Anna learns to take each day one at a time. She no longer bears the full responsibility of her family but recognizes the journey of her mother’s mental health recovery. Despite the stigmas against mental health issues that Anna witnesses, she accepts that her life is already normal—“It’s heartbreaking. And it’s true.” Anna no longer needs perfection as long as she is with the people she loves. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling explores mental health issues in addition to having a cute romance. Readers who would like to explore mental illness through another book should also read Paper Girl by Cindy R. Wilson.
- Anna talks about how she has little experience with boys. “It’s like when it comes to matters of sex, I don’t even count as an observer.”
- One of Rory’s bullies makes a racist and sexist comment to Anna asking, “Aren’t the Asian ones supposed to be submissive?”
- Rory and Anna share a passionate kiss. “We press our mouths harder against each other. Kissing still feels a bit strange and weird but exhilarating at the same time.”
- Rory and Anna share a kiss in his car and things escalate. “Somehow we’re in the back seat. I feel his tongue on my skin, his breath against my neck, a hot and wet sliding.” However, they are quickly interrupted by Anna’s ringing phone.
- Anna and Rory are kissing once again. Anna drags “him closer, feel[s] the tiny hairs on the back of his neck, the base of his throat, taste[s] the inside of his mouth. My legs and hips move, and I’m climbing out of my seat and into his lap.” Rory rubs his hands down Anna’s back, but then the scene ends.
- Anna briefly describes her sexual experience with Rory. “When Rory hovers over me and I can feel his skin pressing up against the bits of my skin that have never felt someone else before, it’s I feel sated, protected, and exhilarated all at the same time.” Anna’s first time having sex with Rory is not described in great detail, but the action is clear.
- Some schoolgirls discuss their assignments and joke about suicide. A girl says, “I’m going to kill myself.”
- Anna discusses how “Ma used to beat us with the end of a feather duster when we did something naughty . . . I went to school with long sleeves covering the blue-and-green streaks.”
- Anna claims she wants to “smack the eyeliner off” of a mean girl’s face.
- Anna makes a vague comment that she wants to “tie weights to [her] ankles and be done with it now.”
- Rory tells Anna how he once tried to kill himself by jumping in front of a moving train, but the train did not come that day.
- While Lily is sleeping, Ma tries to hit her. “There are a few muffled thuds and a sharp cry, so I know Ma’s blows have landed but probably across the blanket.”
- During one of her episodes, Ma mutilates a fish at the restaurant. Ma “holds up a slippery orange fish, no bigger than a mackerel, and before I can do anything, she pops its eyes between her fingers.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Anna is surprised to see her father home “standing by the sink, holding a small tumbler of beer.”
- Rory takes Anna to his sister’s roller derby game where there is drinking. Rory offers Anna a beer and she accepts.
- Ah-Jeff, who works at Baba’s restaurant, slips Anna some Hennessy and Coke while celebrating the new restaurant.
- Anna acknowledges that her “Cantonese might be crap.”
- Baba calls a work colleague who quit a “bastard.”
- After Anna finds her sister has pierced her ears, Anna exclaims, “What the hell, Lily?”
- Anna makes an awkward squeaking sound and questions, “What the hell is wrong with me?”
- Rory wants Anna to form a thesis declaring Rory, “The most badass English professor I’ve ever had,” to which Anna responds calling Rory, “Mr. Badass.”
- Rory describes his time in the hospital. “It was shit and it made me feel worse.” He proceeds to use “shit” multiple times in his description.
- Anna snaps at her brother Michael who can’t find his sock. She yells, “It’s a goddamn sock. Deal with it!”
- Anna states Michael’s “cute pout isn’t going to save my ass.”
- Anna calls Rory’s old friends “real assholes.” In a text conversation, she refers to the same group as “dickheads.”
- Lily texts Anna that she is still “pissed” at her.
- Rory feels as though he is a “shit son.”
- A patient at the hospital calls someone a “bitch.”
- Shit is used four times in one paragraph. For example, Rory states that “Hospitals are shit.”
- Anna’s face turns red from drinking alcohol she can’t tell if she should “feel embarrassed or damn happy to be called out this way.”
- Anna runs into some girls from school at the market and says a silent prayer “to whatever gods there are that the girls won’t see me.”
by Elena Brown