Summary: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
I fell for The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling for its name alone. Thankfully, the premise is equally as captivating. Anna Chiu is a high schooler who has her hands full caring for her little brother and sort of watching over her younger teen sister. Their father runs a restaurant in a nearby town (about two hours away by car) and their mother is so depressed, she hasn’t gotten out of bed in weeks. When Anna convinces her dad to let her work at their restaurant on weekends, she starts a relationship with Rory, the new delivery boy.
As Anna gets to know Rory (and his own mental illness struggles), things at home go from bad to worse. Anna’s mother gets out of bed, but begins acting erratic and her relationship with her sister, as well as their father becomes strained as Anna has to step in to provide her mother the support she needs.
This book does an excellent job reflecting mental health struggles and how they can impact families. Anna’s mother’s mental illness is tough to deal with. It prevents her from being the kind of mother she has the capacity to be, and her children never know what to expect with her. Plus, because of her cultural background, she is hesitant to seek help, so Anna has to bear the brunt of the challenges. Culture and immigration struggles also play a significant role in this book as we learn how hard it was for Anna’s mother to assimilate and how that affected her relationship with their father.
Rory is another character with mental health issues, and readers see that even with help, depression doesn’t miraculously vanish. People with this mental illness still have ups and downs. I liked the honesty in Rory’s relationship with Anna, even though for a while, I worried about them and how they would make things work. I would include triggers for anyone who has been admitted for psychiatric evaluation or those with bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation.
Another thing I have to mention is that this book is set in Australia! The only other YA set in Australia that I’ve read is Kat Colmer’s Can’t Beat the Chemistry, and I have to say: you do sense the difference in setting. You know you’re not in the States or the UK. I loved all the food references in this book (and there are several), as well as Anna’s relationship with her siblings.
Overall: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a poignant, realistic, and sensitive depiction of mental health struggles (bipolar disorder, depression) and how they affect families and relationships. This Aussie YA pays homage to Chinese food and culture, as well as sisterhood and romance. If you like some meat on your YA, enjoy YA by authors of Asian descent, and can handle reading about mental illness, then this is a highly recommended one. I would definitely say high school (upper range) and up.
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I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
More YA Reviews
- Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest
- Far from Normal by Becky Wallace
- We Are the Perfect Girl by Ariel Kaplan
Have you read this book or any other Aussie YA books? Any recommendations? If you’d like more YA books about mental illness, here’s my list. You can also find more YA books out this fall on this list.