Book Review: Alterations by Ray Xu
For fans of Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese and Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, this funny yet poignant middle-grade coming-of-age story highlights the struggle of feeling invisible while yearning to be seen by all.
Kevin Lee is having a really bad week. Although he lives in a crowded Toronto apartment above the family’s alterations and dry-cleaning store, he mostly goes unnoticed. School isn’t exactly an oasis either—being one of the few Asian kids makes for some unwelcome attention. But when Kevin’s class plans a trip to Thrill Planet, a spectacular theme park, will he finally have a chance to turn his life around, or will it just be another day for Kevin Lee?
Fans of middle school graphic novels exploring identity and self-esteem will appreciate the poignant yet humorous journey of finding one’s place in the world, and readers who are looking for Asian representation in books will connect with Kevin’s story of racism, bullying, and the immigrant experience. With its mix of family relationships, friendships, and a thrilling amusement park climax, this inspiring read is perfect for fans of humorous middle grade fiction with diverse characters overcoming obstacles.
You’re reading this review on January 25 or later, but I’m writing on it on the third to last day before the winter break. The kids at school are BONKERS and there’s like 11 minutes of sunlight per day. I’m tired. Really all I’d like to do is sleep. But since 3 pm bedtimes are not really a thing, I pick up a book. It’s this book (but you knew that, didn’t you?). And I lose myself in Kevin’s world. It’s the kind of book where you laugh and also groan out loud. It’s the kind of book that I know I will see a kid read at school and when they return it there are so many scenes I can ask them what they thought about what happened. The egg stuff? The rollercoaster? Tell me what you loved!
Chinese Canadian Kevin’s life is complicated. His parents are divorced (and his dad doesn’t seem to interact with Kevin or her sister anymore, nor does he appear to pay child support) and his mother works extremely long hours at her clothing alteration business. Their grandma moves in with them and their small apartment feels even smaller, with grandma constantly cooking and watching her beloved gameshows. At school, Kevin is one of a few Asian kids and experiences the racism, bullying, and mocking you might expect. But! He has his comics, his art, and his excitement over an upcoming school trip to carry him through. But when that trip sees him paired with the school principal for his partner, Kevin takes extreme measures to ensure he will have a fun day. As you might expect, things do not go as planned. And in Kevin’s life, what ever does?!
Full of expressive art with a fast-paced story, this graphic novel will be a big hit. And one really nice thing about this book is that it’s long. The panels are generally relatively small and there’s a ton of dialogue packed in to each scene. Kevin shows that being yourself is okay and that not everything has to be altered. Sometimes things–and people–are fine just how they are. A great read.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Union Square Kids
Publication date: 01/30/2024
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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