Joseph Calderaro is an “eighth-grade optimist” whose “bag of barbecue chips is always half full.” That is until he has a lousy 14th birthday and his teacher assigns a 1,500-word paper called Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay. The only trouble is, Joseph is adopted. Fourteen years ago he was left on the steps of a police station in Korea. His adopted parents are Italians living in New Jersey, and while he knows he’s a Calderaro, he feels he can’t claim the Italian heritage as his own.
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent follows Joseph as he questions his own identity and struggles to come up with answers about his heritage. Is he a real Korean? Is he Italian? Does it make a difference to him?
I found myself liking Joseph right off the bat. And I loved the assignment he got to write about his heritage. I’ve done a lot of work tracing my own family’s ancestors, so I know that feeling of wanting to identify with the people who came before you. Joseph’s desire to know more about where he came from is extra complicated because of his adoption. But I admired the way he treats this issue as just one of many things he’s thinking about in life. He is 14 after all, and so he’s trying to decide who to ask to the year-end dance. He’s also making new friends and trying to figure out how to bring up difficult subjects with his parents.
Through it all Joseph mostly maintains his optimism, even while he gets into and out of trouble. I found myself cheering for him and thinking how refreshing it is to get to know a character who is upbeat most of the time.
Kimchi and Calamari has many things for mother-daughter book clubs to like and talk about. Issues include communicating with your parents, what makes you part of a family, adoption, your family heritage, dating and more. And don’t be surprised if you get hungry while reading it. The Italian food and Asian dishes described should offer plenty of ideas for what you can serve at a book club meeting. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.