There’s something to be said for the idea that one likes to read books that capture one’s own experiences. I love Good Enough by Paula Yoo, because of all the ways I can relate to it: Main character Patti is an overachiever in school and yet capable of having fun. Her parents have flawed ideas about what might bring her happiness, but are otherwise stable, hard-working adults who want only the best for her. That’s why although they encourage her to play the violin, they don’t want her to pursue the risky profession of a musician. Her church youth group is as flawed and normal as her school peers, while also believing in God. And, like most average adolescent girls, Patti is attracted to the best-looking guys in school.
There are some differences between Patti and I. My hard-earned grades got me into college, but the Ivy league schools weren’t even a consideration. I grew up the only child of a widower father. And, while I liked to play piano, but my actual passion has always been writing. Yet despite these little discrepancies, I felt as Paula Yoo was writing about me, which isn’t something I often feel about the fiction I read.
There’s also something to be said for the idea that one should write about what they know. As a graduate of Yale University, Paula Yoo would intimately know all the intricacies of what applications to those schools would involve. Perhaps, this is why she can give strategies for being accepted, examples of SAT questions and tips on how to solve them, and provide perfect responses to interview questions. None of this academic talk ruins Good Enough, because Yoo writes with a light and interesting style. As a former concertmaster for an all-state high school orchestra, Yoo would also intimately know all the intricacies of playing an instrument for it. Perhaps, this is why she can list classic musicians, list their styles, talk about who inspired them, tell what challenges they faced, and explain how to best play their musical scores on the violin. In between the music talk, Patti (like Paula Yoo) sneaks out occasionally to see cool bands, undergoes a bad home perm that burns her ear, and works on a few songs with a cute guy in her classroom.
There is one outstanding way in which Paula Yoo and are different. She is Korean American; I am Canadian. And so in the same way that Yoo can easily write about the rigors of applying to Ivy League Schools or competing for concertmaster position with an all-state high school orchestra, she can also easily share aspects of her Korean American culture. From her, I learned some Korean phrases and foods. Three recipes are even included, all with funny tips about how to obtain or prepare the ingredients: “Again, I’m assuming you know where to buy kochu jang. If you don’t, try to find the nearest Korean church in your town and sneak into their kitchen…. Don’t forget to return it afterward, because ‘Thou shalt not steal’ is the eighth commandment.”
How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy
Get a perfect score on the SATs
Attend Korean church every Sunday
Don’t talk to boys
Don’t rock the boat
Be good at math
For Patti, gong to church was not just about congregating to celebrate God and socialize with others. “Korean church is also where parents try to one-up each other on their children’s accomplishments.” This theme of being successful is huge in Good Enough. Patti’s parents believe that their daughter will be successful if she is accepted into the Ivy League schools. Her parents have good reasons for this belief. Her parents grew up in Korea, where they had to pass a difficult entrance exam to be accepted into university. That was the only way to get a job and have a career. Her father struggled so much during his youth with calculus that he attended a hagwon (private school) every day from two o’clock in the afternoon until ten at night including weekends. Moreover, he studied every day for fourteen straight hours until exam day. Talk about pressure!
Yet Patti learns that success is not everything: “Safe from what, Dad? Nothing’s safe! Remember how Stephanie’s mom yelled at you. She didn’t care what college you went to! It’s not about where you go to school or what job you have!” Several examples of racism are scattered throughout Good Enough, the above being one of them. In the cafeteria, the football quarterback taunts Patti: “Ching chong … Jap” Patti wonders what her ethnicity has to do with her being brainy or physically uncoordinated? On Halloween, a white classmate dresses up as a geisha and says, “Me speakah no Engrish.” Patti wonders if the girl would have dressed up like this if there were other Asians in the school besides Patti. Then there’s the incident at a clothing store, from which I took the above quote. The family is in line at the register when her dad remembers that he needs socks. When their turn at the register comes, a customer behind them complains, “Where did that Chinese man go?” First, Patti’s family is not Chinese. Second, again, what does their ethnicity have to do with anything? Even when Patti’s dad returns seconds later and apologizes with an accent, the customer complains: “Is he speaking English?” Not willing to let the moment go, the customer rants, “These people, they come to our country, they don’t bother learning the language.” Ironically, Patti’s parents have been so determined to ensure her success in America, that the family speaks only English at home. Patti herself knows only a few Korean phrases.
Good Enough “is based on my own life growing up as a ‘violin geek’. I have often read books about violinists that come off as very ‘well-researched,’ but do not have the authenticity and ‘insider knowledge’ that a real violinist would have. I tried to bring that authenticity across in my novel. In addition, although my novel is about a Korean American teenage girl who pursues her love of music despite her immigrant parents’ academic pressure on her, I wanted my novel to strike a universal chord among all teens.”
–Paula Yoo, Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind
My rating?Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
Paula Yoo has some interesting stories to tell about how she knew when she wanted to become a writer. For example, according to her profile at Lee and Low, Yoo began writing short stories and even mini-novels in kindergarten. On the back of the latter, she’d even draw a picture of herself with a biography that read: “Paula Yoo, age 7, is a second grader at Keeney Elementary School. This is her first book.”
In an interview at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind, Yoo shares that after reading Charlotte’s Web in the first grade, she felt inspired to write her own stories. Her first “novel” was a 75-page handwritten book entitled “The Girl Called Raindrop.” Yoo submitted it to Harper & Row because they published her favorite series, the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yoo received a nice letter from them saying that she was ‘talented’ and should consider trying out for their writing contest for children ages seven to ten. However, Yoo was so upset they were rejecting ‘The Girl Called Raindrop’ that she tore up the letter. She thought, ‘I’m not a CHILD writer, I’m a REAL writer!’
Basically, Yoo has wanted to be a writer since the moment she learned to read. She loves putting words on paper to create a whole new world, an entire universe filled with fascinating characters. And–Yoo wanted to have her picture on the back of a book, just like her favorite authors!
Before becoming a full-time writer,Yoo worked as a freelance musician, English and music teacher, journalist, and tv screenwriter. By working as a reporter for The Seattle Times, The Detroit News, and PEOPLE Magazine, she paid off her journalism graduate student loans. Journalism taught her how to write on deadline. Yoo then taught for a little bit before switching over to being a full-time TV screenwriter for shows like Beyond the Break (The N), Eureka (SyFy), Hidden Palms (The CW), Side Order of Life (Lifetime), Tru Calling (FOX), and The West Wing (NBC).
Her lifelong dream of becoming an author came true with the publication of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story. He was the first Asian American to win a gold medal at the Olympics in 1948 for diving after facing racial discrimination. Yoo submitted her nonfiction book to the Lee & Low Books “New Voices” contest, because she loved their books and thought it’d be a good entry for them.
Her first young adult novel Good Enough was written between her TV jobs. Yoo says, “I was unemployed and took advantage of the free time to work on a new novel. I wrote about my life as a teen violin geek. I literally wrote this novel in five weeks straight. It just poured out of me. I then revised it and sent it to my agent and he submitted it to yes, HarperCollins, and they finally decided I was a ‘real’ writer and not a ‘child’ writer and published it!”
The above information I compiled from mostly from online biographies. I encourage you to also check these interviews:
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.