Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. ISBN 9780316060004
The Year of the Dog is a good year to find yourself. At least according to Pacy’s mother when she is explaining what the Year of the Dog means to her daughters. Finding yourself is all what The Year of the Dog (the novel not the actual year) is about.
Pacy, who goes by Grace to her American friends, is the only Chinese-Taiwanese-American in school. That is, until Melody moves to town. Then the two are “almost twins” who are both determined to find their talent and who they are meant to be before the Year of the Dog is over. While the novel is written in a simplistic form that elementary school children can enjoy, it also addresses important aspects of identity that do not end after elementary school. For example, the concept of beauty and importance are quietly addressed several times in this novel whether it is mentioning the practice of binding feet, Pacy deciding not to try out for Dorothy because “Dorothy isn’t Chinese,” or Pacy’s declaration that Chinese people can’t be important because there aren’t any books or movies about them (a fact that sadly the girls’ school library supports by only having one book The Seven Chinese Brothers).
The novel encourages the reader to find themselves…no matter how many times they seem to fail. Pacy is always aware that she is neither Chinese nor American, but somewhere in between, especially when the girls at the Taiwanese American Conference were rude to Pacy because she couldn’t speak Taiwanese. Pacy has to choose what defines her, what her family tells her (that she is Chinese American the same way their Chinese New Year tray was with Chinese candy and M&Ms, which her dad says is a tasty combination), or that she will believe what others say (that she is Chinese on the outside but has no culture on the inside). Pacy’s mother puts it this way, “You don’t have to be more one than the other, you’re Chinese-American.”
Lin admits that she wrote this semiautobiographical book because it’s what she wished she had growing up. Considering the book Pacy writes in the novel, The Ugly Vegetables, is a picture book by Lin, it is easy to watch the lines blur between author and character.
While this book could easily be enjoyed by third graders (especially if a Chinese or Taiwanese American is looking for a book about someone like them), it should be revisited in middle school when preteens and teens have to find themselves all over again. The preteens would likely appreciate the views of beauty (like the china/China doll incident), Pacy’s fear of embarrassment, and how she can both fit in and not fit in at the same time (like a teenager).
Asian Pacific American Award for Literature-2006-2007 (Honorable Mention)
Booklist—“Now she[Lin] has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her. And what a year it is! Grace meets a new friend, another Asian girl, and together they enter a science fair, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy special aspects of their heritage (food!).”
Kirkus—“ Being Taiwanese-American is confusing, and being the only Asian kid in your elementary school-except for your older sister-is not always comfortable. Pacy has high hopes for the Year of the Dog, which, she learns, is a year for finding friends and finding yourself. The friend comes first: a new girl, Melody, whose family is also Taiwanese-American…Interspersed with the happenings of daily life are her mother’s stories of Pacy’s grandparents’ lives and her own struggles as a new immigrant.”
Cooper, Ilene. Booklist. Jan 2006. (Vol. 102, No. 9) Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780316060004
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. December 2005. (Vol. 73, No. 24) Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780316060004