Monday, May 21, 2018

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista Kim is a fifth-grader living in Vancouver, BC and the only Korean Canadian in her school. Jason has been her best friend since preschool and Krista has always just assumed they would always be besties. And Krista had turned Jason onto Korean food, which he now loves and consequently, is at the Kim house fairly frequently. Unfortunately, Krista's grandmother doesn't seem to like Jason one bit.

When their teacher announces that they will be working on a Heritage Month project, Krista isn't too thrilled, feeling she will end up being the "Korean Ambassador" and asked stupid questions like "how do you say fart in Korean?" Jason suggests she do her project on Korean food, but before Krista decides, she receives an invitation to a "Red Carpet" birthday party from Madison, a popular girl in school and someone Krista hasn't had much to do with in the past.

When her older sister Tori hears about the invitation, she remakes a traditional Korean hanbok into a more modern style for Krista, and her grandmother takes her to a Korean beauty salon the morning of the party. There, Krista learns about a special tape that will make the shape of her eyes more Western and less Korean. In fact, Grandma Kim promises to take Krista and Tori to Korea to have their eyes surgically redone when they are old enough.

Krista and her dress are a real hit at Madison's party, and during the following school week, Madison and her friends pull Krista away from Jason to hang out with them. Krista convinces herself that this is all OK with Jason, not even seeing his hurt feelings.

Meanwhile, Grandma Kim is starting to teach Krista how to make traditional Korean food, and agrees to help with the Heritage Month project at school. As Krista and Jason drift apart, she gets caught up in the trying to fit in with Madison and her friends, until she is confronted with Jason's rejection in school one day.

Can Grandma Kim make things better between the two friends? She's never liked Jason, but when she discovers his love of Korean food, maybe that is just what she needs to get them talking again.

For a book aimed at younger middle-grade kids, Krista Kim-Bap took me on quite a reading roller coaster of ups and downs. At first, I thought it was going to be a cute kind of fluffy story about best friends who run into a glitch in their friendship but ultimately make-up. But, as I read, I began to think it was going to be a story about how a Korean Canadian girl finally figures out how to be just like all the other girls in school with the help of her sister. But in the end, Krista learns to be really proud of her Korean heritage and to accept who she is, and not become what others want to her be.

Along the way, the author, Angela Ahn, addresses some important issues about identity. For instance, I know that there is the traditional hanbok, which is quite beautiful, and now a more modern version, so the idea that Tori altered the hanbok her grandmother gave her seemed in keeping with today's world and Tori's interest in fashion.  What I did find distressing was that Krista and Tori were both willing to eventually have their eyes cosmetically altered to look Western. To me, that takes away so much of who a person is. I remember hearing Julie Chen talk about having it done when she first started out as a news reporter and saying it was something she has always regretted. I'm sure that Krista's mother is speaking for Ahn in Chapter 14, when she sits her girls down and talks to them about changing their "Korean-ness." A chapter not to be skipped over.

On a lighter note, Krista Kim-Bap also introduces young readers to a variety of different Korean dishes and anyone who hasn't tried some Korean food yet is in for a real culinary taste treat.

Krista Kim-Bap is a fun/serious coming-of-age story about identity, finding and accepting youself, and knowing who your real friends are. It reminded me of something I learned in Brownies and passed on to my own Kiddo when she was in middle school: "Make new friends/Keep the old/One is silver/the other is gold."

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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