You know those books that just sweep you off your feet? The ones you are going to recommend to everyone you know? That is me and The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling. It’s a story full of heart and emotions. One I finished in a matter of hours I was so captivated and moved. Keep reading this book review to see my favorite quotes and full thoughts.
Anna Chiu has her hands full. When she’s not looking after her brother and sister or helping out at her father’s restaurant, she’s taking care of her mother, whose debilitating mental illness keeps her in bed most days. Her father’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could be a normal teen.
But when her mother finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as her mother’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a heart-wrenching, true-to-life exploration through the often neglected crevices of culture, mental illness, and family. Its strong themes are balanced by a beautiful romance making it a feel-good, yet important read.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: racism, mentions of a suicide attempt, emotional abuse, depression
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a touching and poignant story about mental illness, family and love, and the power of dreams. Many moments brought me to tears. Whether it was the sheer unapologetic joy, the escape of shadowy nights, or even the immense feelings of heartbreak and fear. Her family is one of patched quilts, empty breakfasts, and obligations of silence.
The signs didn’t work, but I needed them to guide me.
Chim never shies away from the nuanced, complicated, and painful conversations. The moments that rip your heart from your chest as her family struggles with the mental illness of her mother. Or the occasions of racism that makes your cheeks burn and your heart rage. At the same time, Chim celebrates the moments of happiness, first love, and siblings. The bustling breakfasts or the first time you sneak out. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is a story about the bonds of family as they comfort our fall or hold us back.
The butterflies in my heart are drooping.
The characters will captive you and hold on tightly. Their pains, fears, and loves written so plainly in their silences, hopeful smiles, and tears. How they tackle the rippling effects of their mother’s health, the stigma of mental health in their culture, and the necessity to rely on each other. I began racing through the book because I was so invested in the characters, the ways my heart ached for them.
Ma is singing, loud and clear and strong. She’s Ma with all her fire, all her rage, all her love that is sometimes too fierce.
And each character was unique and nuanced. The ways their mother loves fiercely, even as she may hurt them emotionally. Or the racism her mother experienced in Australia. How Lily, Anna’s sister, can be prickly, but is also navigating her own dreams while also still tackling the relationship with her mother as well. How we can love and resent our parents. The ways we feel like we have to take care of them, when they should be the ones taking care of us.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling was surprising in the best way. It features nuanced conversations about cultural values, racism in our thoughts and cultures, and family. Prepare yourself for an emotional book that will take you all over the map. But it’s a book that has a fantastic balance between our complicated feelings, our triumphs as a family, and our new experiences. Anna is a character I love with my whole heart, but really all of the characters spoke to me (especially her relationship with her siblings!)
About the Author
Wai Chim is a first-generation Chinese-American from New York City. Growing up speaking Cantonese around the house, she absorbed as much Western culture as she could through books, TV, and school. She spent some time living in Japan before making Sydney, Australia, her permanent home. In addition to her writing, Wai works as a digital producer/web developer for The Starlight Children’s Foundation, whose programs offer entertainment, education, and technology to critically, chronically, and terminally ill children. Learn more about her at waichim.com.