By Ying Chang Compestine
Henry Holt BYR, 2007
ISBN: 0805082077 / 978-0805082074
Awards/Recognition: California Book Award for Young Adult Literature * 2008 ALA Best Books For Young Adults * 2008 ALA Notable Children’s Books * 2007 Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Fiction Book List
Revolution is Not a Dinner Party offers a look at a family’s frightening experiences during one of the most chilling chapters in modern Chinese history. It’s a page-turner, a tragedy, and a tribute to the resilience of a young girl in the midst of a world gone crazy.
“The summer of 1972, before I turned nine, danger began knocking on doors all over China.”
So begins the story of Ling Chang, the daughter of two doctors living in Wuhan during Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution, when thousands of Chinese intellectuals were killed or sent to re-education camps. Over the course of three years, Ling and her family descend from well-respected citizens to “bourgeois pigs,” whose home is ransacked and lives made miserable at every turn. The novel doesn’t spare the thousands of tragedies, large and small, through the eyes of a little girl awakening to the darker side of human nature. Whether it’s a broken doll, school humiliations, betrayal at the hands of friends, or witnessing a suicide, Compestine lays the facts bare. Ling journeys from being a wide-eyed innocent to a streetwise twelve-year-old, who wields belt buckles to ward off bullies and who steals food from the Red Guard’s secret stash.
Beyond the nail-biting tension as the noose tightens around this family, the relationship between Ling and her parents made this novel a keeper. Ling is blessed with a healthy relationship with her doting father. His life lessons – whether dancing the tango, studying English, or memorizing the physician’s code of ethics — see her through even her loneliest days. But, I was even more intrigued by the complicated love/hate dance between Ling and her mother. Seemingly tense and unfairly critical at the start of the novel, Ling’s mother is anything but sympathetic. In time, however, Ling learns to judge those behaviors against the backdrop of what it really takes to survive in a world where even the most trusted friend can betray you, when the simplest dream or desire can cost a girl her life. MM
Learn more about Ying Chang Compestine.