Kimchi & Calamarai is a great book for middle schoolers. Author Rose Kent isn’t quite as funny as Jordan Sonnenblick, but her main character’s voice is just as authentic. Joseph has a strong eighth grade boy’s voice. His situations, friendships and family relationships all ring true and all the characters have depth. Best of all, the plot is fresh and honest.
Kimchi & Calamari reminds me of Sonnenblick’s books, too, because it treats the parents with respect while honestly facing their flawed humanity. It also has the strong theme, like Sonnenblick’s, of finding that the girlfriend of your dreams might be a nightmare while the long suffering friend (who happens to be a girl) might be worth a new focus. And one more connection – Joseph (like Sonnenblick’s Steven) is a drummer!
A required class essay on cultural heritage sends Joseph into conflict; Joseph’s family is Italian (Calamari) - but Joseph was adopted from Korea (Kimchi). Today’s readers will connect with the book - we see more and more International adoptions. In our little school we have three from Guatemala, two from Korea, and two from Russia. My dear friend and library aide has a grandson recently from Korea. (Like Joseph, he was fondly called Buddha Baby and is allergic to milk!) And our brother and sister-in-law are in Russia right now completing paperwork and praying all goes well so they can bring home their son.
Adopted or not, middle school is the time to begin the journey from being someone’s child to becoming a young individual. Kids will relate to Joseph’s search for identity. Joseph is ultimately left with more questions than answers, but that, too, is realistic. Sometimes it is the questions with which we need to make peace.
Kimchi & Calamarai. Don’t read it when you’re hungry… but make sure you read it!