Rose Kent’s first young adult novel introduces us to fourteen-year-old Joseph Calderaro and to all the glories and woes of his life as a middle schooler coming to terms with his identity.
A Korean adopted by Italian-American parents, Joseph is forced to face up to issues of heritage by a “Celebrating Your Heritage” school essay/competition assignment. At that point in his life he feels that one line would summarize it all: “I’m adopted.”
To his surprise, Joseph’s essay wins the competition and he’s forced to come clean about having “borrowed” a Korean ancestor from a history book, for fear of having to read the essay at an all-school award ceremony. His teacher and parents very sensitively take the time to understand his reasons for faking his ancestry in the essay. In the process, they help him realize his deeper questions and fears. As he embarks on a quest to find his birth mother, he starts noticing the similarities and differences between his Korean, Italian and American sides and begins to turn the “combo platter” or “ethnic sandwich” he always felt he was into one spicy and unique Joseph.
This is not, as it may seem at first sight, a novel about transracial and transcultural adoption, but a coming-of-age story whose themes are magnified by adolescence and adoption. Joseph’s teen voice is pitch perfect. The dialogues and scenes at the family dinner table and between Joseph and his friends are at once hilarious and poignant, making clear the mix of vulnerability and worldliness in his character. His age-related confusion and struggles will surely resonate with young adults, whatever their background, and bring signs of recognition to their faces. A delicious and thought-provoking debut, Kimchi & Calamari is likely to have readers going for second helpings!