“I wish I had a normal name, like Jane or Chetna or Soo-hee. A name that at least looks like what I’m supposed to be.” Alejandra Kim (“Ale”) feels like she has spent her entire existence stuck between two worlds: between her “super-Korean face” and “super-Spanish first name”; between her Korean ethnicity and Argentinian culture; between her gritty Jackson Heights, Queens neighborhood and her bougie Manhattan private school. No matter where Ale goes, someone is either messing up her name or making assumptions about her background, or both. Now its senior year and eight months since her father died in a subway accident. Sad, confused and angry, Ale is just trying lay low and make it through until spring when college acceptances come in. She wants to go to Whyder, a small, exclusive private college in Maine where she hopes to finally reconcile the two sides of herself and stop feeling like an imposter in her own life. But when her white best friend Laurel starts a petition to remove a teacher who mocked Ale’s name, Ale is thrown into the middle of a politically correct firestorm that will force her to confront all the choices she’s made up to this point–and pick a side.
As a proud former Queens dweller (1997-2021) and long time faculty member in independent schools, I can say with complete conviction that author Patricia Park‘s heartfelt and often hilarious depiction of Ale’s two worlds is perfectly spot-on. Each page had me rolling my eyes in knowing recognition. Ale kept me laughing and crying with her insecure and snarky first person voice, and the full cast of secondary characters, from her overly earnest friend Laurel to her pragmatic cousin Michael, were so engaging that they could have each had their own novel. Ale’s story is for everyone, but especially for anyone who has ever felt like a stranger to their own history. Do not miss this smart, funny novel coming to a library or bookstore near you this February!