July 24th, 2008

Dragon Road by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road
by Laurence Yep

When I was a child, Laurence Yep was a hero to my family. Roughly the same age as my mother, he grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown the same years that she did, and she was proud that he was such a successful, prolific Chinese-American writer. His books were always around in our house, and often as I read the books Mom would be able to chime in with similar stories from our family’s past. It was fascinating. I have a huge respect for the man.
            And yet, I have not read his Golden Mountain Chronicles. I think I started Dragonwings when I was in elementary school, but for some reason the book did not appeal. Years went by and I forgot the series existed, until recently I was sent a copy of Dragon Road to review.   It’s the latest addition to the series, and it’s a good one. Set at the tail-end of the Depression in San Francisco’s Chinatown, it’s a story of the struggles of Chinese-Americans…and basketball?
            Long before Yao Ming became a household name, a team of professional Chinese-American basketball players traveled across America playing anyone willing to take them on. Yep takes inspiration from this team and creates the Dragons, a team of young men desperate to make money in a world that won’t hire Chinese for “real” jobs as long as there are unemployed white men.   Calvin “Flash” Chin and his friend Barney are the newest recruits to the team; Barney wants to travel and see the country while Cal just wants to earn enough money to support his alcoholic father.   But while affable Barney has no trouble easing into the group, Cal’s temper and talent lead him to clash with the team’s star player and coach Topper over and over again.   Even worse, the team’s manager Jack Coughlan is using Cal to drive a wedge between Topper and the rest of the team. Cal has always distanced himself from others and thinks he can play Jack’s mind-games, but when his loyalties are tested will he be true to his teammates, his manager, or himself?

           For a boy in middle school, I think this would be perfect summer reading.  There's plenty of action, and the story never drags.  Personally, I don't know a thing about basketball so during Yep's descriptions of game play my mind wandered but the power struggles and delicate relationships between the players always drew me back in.  Cal and many of his teammates also had a hard time being both Chinese and American, which really resonated with me as that internal dissonence bothered me throughout childhood.  If you missed Laurence Yep in your childhood, pick up one of his books next time you're at the library or the bookstore.  You won't regret it - I promise!

Buy the book on Amazon.com, or add it to your wishlist.