All That Work and Still No Boys
By Kathryn Ma
University of Iowa Press
I suppose I should start by saying that this book is not for those who like conventional storytelling. If, however, you like breaking out of the traditional box, then I would urge you to give this book a try.
In All That Work and Still No Boys, Kathryn Ma writes short stories with one thing in common: they relate back to her theme of the Chinese American experience in California. Each chapter is the story of a person or family, sometimes related to another person or family in the book and sometimes not at all. The stories jump through time and space, sometimes told in the first person and sometimes in the third. But each chapter and each story is a refreshing, unique look at the way different people deal with immigration, culture, and family.
It’s hard to write about what I enjoyed most in this book without going into detail about specific stories. I’ll briefly mention that I loved the grandmother so dedicated to helping her aspiring actress of a granddaughter, and the overachieving student with a school prank gone wrong. With the grandmother, you see pride and dedication almost to a fault. The student, meanwhile, provides an unexpected spin on the stereotype of overachieving Asian student. These are just a couple of my favorites though, because Ma breathed life into each character no matter how short the story. I found myself connecting to some part of almost every story, seeing the weaknesses of the protagonists and sympathizing with the antagonists.
This is normally the point in a review where I would elaborate on what I didn’t like about the book, but there isn’t really much I didn’t like. If I had to offer a criticism, it would be that I find the characters a little under-developed and wish I could read more about all of them. I’d like to know how their stories continue and where they end up.
Admittedly, even though I love reading narratives that jump around and don’t always match up the way these stories do, it was sometimes hard to figure out what stories were actually connected and which were not. I look forward to reading the book again not just to connect the dots, but simply because it was a very enjoyable book to read.