The Year of the Rat
The Year of the Rat, a semi-autobiographical novel written and illustrated by Grace Lin, follows a year (one Chinese New Year to the next) in the life of Pacy, a young Taiwanese American. The Year of the Rat is the first year of the Chinese twelve-year cycle and therefore it symbolizes new beginnings. The Year of the Rat is the time to make a fresh start and to change things. And Pacy does experience important changes during the Year of the Rat: her best friend Melody moves away, there's a new boy who is the only other Asian in her elementary school (aside from her sister Ki-Ki), her favorite cousin Clifford gets married, and she starts doubting her dream to become a writer and illustrator. Pacy does not like most of the changes the year brings.
I found The Year of the Rat a refreshing read because it is simple, innocent, and unpretentious (though at times it is corny); and because it is children's literature I can really relate to.
As an Asian who grew up in the United States, I could relate to Pacy's confusion and the prejudice she encounters. I kept getting flashbacks while reading The Year of the Rat. For example, Pacy remembers that in kindergarten her classmates Kurt and Rich would stretch their eyes with their fingers and chant pretend Chinese at her. That's happened to me - and I'm not even Chinese! Pacy says: "Sometimes, I felt like I was more than one person. At home, everyone called me Pacy, my Chinese name, and at school, everyone called me Grace, my American name. At times I wasn't sure which person I was supposed to be-Taiwanese Pacy or Chinese Pacy or American Grace." I've certainly felt that way before!
I've always thought that Asian cultures are beautiful and I LOVED learning so many things about Taiwanese and Taiwanese American culture from The Year of the Rat. But the work is not about Taiwanese or Taiwanese American culture, neither is it about immigrant experiences. These things are gently weaved into an engrossing story that is really about family, friendship, and growing up.
I was a little sad when I finished reading The Year of the Rat. It's a short novel (with cute illustrations!) that I didn't want to end. I want more stories about Pacy and her family and friends!
Tarie is a reader, grad student (major Anglo-American literature), editor of EFL instructional materials, and former (and future) English teacher in the Philippines. She blogs about literature for the young and young at heart at Into the Wardrobe.