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Joseph Calderaro turns fourteen at the beginning of this engaging, humorous story of a Korean born Italian American kid who is thrown into a quagmire of emotions when, on the heels of his social studies teacher giving him ancestry project that makes him feel that he has no history or ancestral connections because he is adopted, his father gives him a corno for his birthday, as is the Italian cultural tradition in their family
While the major plot of the novel is Joseph’s search for his Korean mother and family, he also has a crush on a girl and teenage awkwardness to overcome. In this story that offers no dreamy endings, Rose Kent writes such a convincing and vulnerable narrative through Joseph’s first person voice that readers will laugh and cry growing close to Joseph and the people in his close circle. Readers will feel agitated with Joseph’s whining, tattle-tale younger twin sisters—the biological daughters of his parents, laugh with Joseph’s best friend who pushes him to do the search for his birth mother and hold their breath in empathy with his father whose fear of rejection and discomfort with the issue of Joseph being of Korean ancestry keeps him from even talking about Joseph’s birth nationality. Kent seamlessly weaves into the story the many ways in which Joseph feels inadequate as a Korean and rootless as an Italian. In addition to the disappointment of finding the “wrong” birth family, he also meets a Korean immigrant family who stereotypically own the Dry Cleaners and have a daughter who is an academic prodigy whose Korean language and cultural traditions exacerbate Joseph’s sense of being “un-Korean”.
At the center of the novel is the drastic and desperate action Joseph takes to hide the fact that he doesn’t know his Korean ancestry and the drama that unfolds and upturns Joseph’s life in the wake of his tortured decision. Ultimately, Joseph’s father breaks his silence, Joseph works to repair the relationships he has broken and his family strategizes an approach to integrating Joseph’s Korean roots into his Italian-American/Korean life. Anyone who likes to read will read ‘Kimchi and Calamari’ twice and love it. Others will read this book and find a powerful story of defining identity, being lost and found as a transracially, internationally adopted child.
Recommendation: Highest Recommendation; ages 9-14
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda