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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #4 (January 24, 2006), page 15.
"A book that had someone like me in it"
The Year of the Dog
By Grace Lin
Little, Brown, 2006
Hardcover, 134 pages, $14.99
By Josephine Bridges
What does it mean when it’s the Year of the Dog?" asks Pacy, the narrator of Grace Lin’s first novel, as she teaches her little sister how to draw a dog while her mother and big sister prepare the Chinese New Year dinner. "Well, in the Year of the Dog you find your best friends," answers big sister Lissy. Mom adds, "Since dogs are also honest and sincere, it’s a good year to find yourself."
Turns out that Pacy finds even more than she had hoped for, and The Year of the Dog is a wonderful, "mostly true" autobiographical novel by the author and illustrator of seven books for children, including The Ugly Vegetables, which plays an important part in this novel.
While Pacy’s friendships and quest to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up are at the center of The Year of the Dog, there are also a number of amusing and enlightening family stories, including "How Grandpa Got Rich," "The Paper Piano," and "Uncle Shin and the Special Cake."
Pacy’s family will keep you in stitches. Lissy tells Pacy that she didn’t deserve a Red Egg party because she was "the worst baby … They had to put a tube on your ankle and put you in a plastic box." When Pacy wants to know if Mom will cry if she wins a book contest, the way Pacy’s grandmother cried when Pacy’s mother played a piano solo, Dad quips, "We’ll all cry … I’ll buy a box of Kleenex just for the occasion."
Grace Lin’s black and white illustrations are just right. They all have captions, and include not only scenes from the story but a school lunch, how to color an egg red, and a mean girl’s drawing of a Twinkie. She knows how to turn a phrase, too. Here’s how Pacy describes early spring: "The snow had melted away for good and had left everything smelling like a wet towel."
Did you know that, on Chinese New Year, "the longer you stay awake, the longer your parents’ lives will be?" Were you aware that only women are supposed to eat yellow ginger and chicken soup? Have you seen Chinese vegetables that look like "warty frogs" and "purple sausages?"
In an author’s note following the story, Grace Lin explains that she wrote this book "because it was the book I wished I had had when I was growing up, a book that had someone like me in it."
"The Year of the Dog had been a great year," Pacy realizes as she prepares to greet the Year of the Pig. The Year of the Dog is a great read.