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Chinglish by Sue Cheung - Review

Monday, September 30, 2019


Where did I get it? Netgalley, many thanks to Penguin Random House Children's books for the opportunity to read this book. I was granted a free electronic copy of this book for review, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

What's it about? It is a book told in diary format, based on the true experiences of author Sue Cheung as a teenager in the 1980s. In the book, Jo Kwan lives in Coventry with her parents and her younger sister Bonny. At the very beginning of the book, she is living in Hull, while her older brother Simon lives in Coventry with their grandparents. The Kwans own a butcher's shop, but when they move to Coventry they have bought a Chinese takeaway. Upstairs is really small - there's no living room and Jo and Bonny have to share a room. Jo is thirteen and is about to start a new school.

At school she is subjected to bullying slurs but makes friends with a goth girl called Tina. She can't let Tina come home with her though and be subjected to her crazy life. She serves in the takeaway most days after school. Her mum doesn't speak much English, her grandparents don't either, and although her dad does, he prefers to stay quiet. Jo and Bonny doesn't speak Chinese very well, so all of the family has to cobble together bits of language in order to communicate. Add in some unlucky pets, and life is chaos.

The first half of the book I thought was very funny, I loved Jo trying to just cope with life and keep the two halves of her life separate, while also doing typical teenage things like dyeing her fringe and wishing she would grow. The second half, when Jo is a little bit older, is a little bit darker, showing her dad's abusive behaviour, and showing just how much Jo really wants to get out of the house, and out of Coventry. I found this half really moving, and felt like it was an important part of the book. 

There's a bit at the end where Sue Cheung talks about the bits that are real and the bits that aren't, and makes the point that this book is her truth, but not necessarily anyone else's. I liked it, I like that point too. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, and there's quite a lot of racial abuse 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so 

Is there any talk of death? No, but there is some graphic violence so be careful

Are there swear words? No, Jo actually uses "flipping" instead, haha 

What criticisms do I have? I just wish it had been longer! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. I really liked it. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen positive reviews of it on Twitter. 

What do I think of the cover? I love it! It's so vibrant and has the traditional Chinese colours of yellow and red, and the image of the dragon, but that's juxtaposed against the image of the Dr Marten boot. I think it's a fab cover. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of the Adrian Mole diaries, which I loved as a teenager. I think the 80s setting adds to it, but Jo is a funny diary keeper too like Adrian. 

How many stars? Four out of five! Read this now, it's excellent. 

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