The Painter household has been waiting for a new Mike Jung book since we first read Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities when it first came out. Unidentified Suburban Object did not disappoint.
Chloe Cho is the only Asian girl in her school. When people aren't confusing her with being Chinese or Japanese (she's Korean), they are busy thinking she is first chair violin and the smartest kid in school simply because she's Asian. She is interested in her Korean identity, but her parents refuse to discuss their history or culture with her. When she starts 7th grade and has a new Korean teacher, she couldn't be more excited. Ms. Lee assigns her students a project that means Chloe HAS to learn about her family history. Finally Chloe will get some answers, but they are not anywhere close to the answers she was looking for.
This is the second MG book I've read this year that has a heroine with sharp edges who isn't "nice" all the time. If this is the start of a new trend, I'm 100% on board! Chloe is magnificent. She is smart, talented, and ambitious. She works hard, but she has a lot of natural talents as well. This has made her more than a little sure of herself. She has always been on top and she expects to stay there. Chloe is snarky in the perfect way middle schoolers are. Her longing to know who she is and how she fits into the world strike exactly the right note. That is a universal story that all middle schoolers understand, but her story is also a specific one that children of immigrants will especially connect with. Chloe's best friend Shelly is a good foil for her: more shy, more sensitive, just as smart but not as showy. They make a good team.
For the most part, this is a basic MG novel about identity and friendship that takes place at school. But it has a pretty spectacular twist. One that is going to have its target audience gasping. Again they will be able to identify. Jung excels at taking the feelings all tweens have and focusing them perfectly in a very particular direction. The friendship aspect is well done too. In her anger, confusion, and temper, Chloe does not treat Shelly the way she should. Watching her grow in this area is significant to both the plot and her character development. I appreciated how there are very realistic consequences for all of Chloe's actions too. Unlike many MG novels, the adults are present and realistic. Chloe's parents love and support her. They are sometimes a little clueless to her emotions and what she needs to deal with the things she's learned, but as a parent of a tween myself, I could relate. The teachers are well done as well. Some of them are excellent, some of them are clearly picking up a paycheck, but they behave and respond as actual teachers do.
I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. I know my daughter will love it too, and I can't wait for our official copy to arrive.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books, via Edelweiss. Unidentified Suburban Object is available April 26th.