Reviews for Mambo in Chinatown

Booklist Reviews 2014 June #1
Clumsy 22-year-old Charlie Wong had hoped to become a noodle maker, like her famous father, but instead toils away night and day as a dishwasher in New York City's Chinatown. Her mother, once a star dancer for the Beijing Ballet, passed away when Charlie was 14, and she has spent the years since looking after her younger sister, Lisa. And it's Lisa who recognizes that Charlie's job saps all of her happiness and energy. Lisa encourages Charlie to accept a receptionist's position at a ballroom dance studio in Midtown Manhattan, and, for the first time, Charlie begins to realize that she may have inherited her mother's talent. Soon she is entirely transformed, teaching beginning students and competing in a dance competition. Not everyone is happy with the change, especially her father. Drawing on her newfound confidence, Charlie attempts to navigate the great divide between Eastern and Western cultures. In her winning second novel (after Girl in Translation, 2010), Kwok infuses her heartwarming story with both the sensuality of dance and the optimism of a young woman coming into her own. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2014 April #1
From Kwok (Girl in Translation, 2010), another story about a plucky young Chinese-American woman whose hard work transports her out of poverty and hidebound traditions to find love and success. At 22, having been fired for ineptness from numerous jobs, ABC (American Born Chinese) Charlie Wong works as a dishwasher in the restaurant where her dad is a noodle maker without peer. Unlike 11-year-old Lisa, Charlie's younger sister, who is an ace student adored by all, Charlie didn't do well in school academically or socially. And unlike her long-dead mother, who was a ballerina with the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to America, Charlie seems completely lacking in grace except when practicing tai chi. But Charlie dreams of escaping the narrow confines of New York's Chinatown, where she must live according to her father's Old World rules and customs, which include a reliance on traditional Chinese medicine as practiced by his brother Henry; Lisa works after school in Uncle Henry's office as Charlie did before she proved too clumsy. Then Charlie answers a want ad and (a little too) miraculously is hired as a receptionist at Avery Studios, a respected uptown ballroom-dance studio. Although her receptionist skills are lacking, Charlie is in heaven around the dancers. Soon, the studio's owner, Adrienne, recognizes Charlie's dormant talent as a dancer and, after the briefest training, hires her to teach the beginners class. Charlie is quickly caught up in learning a syllabus of dances and is even encouraged to enter a major competition. She's also falling for not one, but two handsome men. But all is not well back in Chinatown, where Mr. Wong, who has no idea about his daughter's secret uptown life, tries to find her a husband. And Lisa comes down with a mysterious ailment while preparing to take the entrance exam for prestigious Hunter High School. It's a shame that Kwok lets the end fall apart—rushing through a clichéd, melodramatic revelation that resolves way too easily—since much of Charlie's Cinderella story, not to mention Charlie herself, is charming. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2014 June #2

Drawing on personal experience, Kwok follows up her New York Times best-selling Girl in Translation with a new novel featuring 22-year-old Charlie Wong, a dishwasher who gets caught up in the world of professional ballroom dancing. Charlie lives in New York's Chinatown, sharing her life with her noodle-maker father and her extremely bright 11-year-old sister, Lisa. At Lisa's urging, Charlie quits her dishwasher gig to take on a job as a receptionist at a dance studio. As Charlie's life begins to change, fate steps in to give her a chance to find her own identity as a professional dance instructor, while having her family believe that her job entails working with computers. VERDICT Though the novel tries to cover too many issues and the characters (especially Charlie's dad) are more unevenly drawn than those in Girl in Translation, Kwok ventures more deeply into traditional Chinese culture to give readers a satisfying, heartfelt story about the individual's triumph over life's hardships. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]--Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2014 March #4

Charlie Wong can't catch a break: instead of taking after her late, beautiful dancer mother, she's awkward and clumsy, and unlike her gifted younger sister, Lisa, she's a terrible student. After struggling through high school, she lands a dishwasher job in New York City's Chinatown, alongside her noodle-maker father. She then goes to work at a dance studio, where she makes for a terrible receptionist, but when Charlie has to teach a beginner's dance class, Kwok (Girl in Translation) pulls out all the stops for an ugly-duckling story. The kind and patient studio staff transforms Charlie by revealing her to herself: underneath her baggy hand-me-downs, she has a strong and sexy body; what she lacks in poise, she makes up for in rhythm, line, and the willingness to work until her feet bleed. While Kwok's depiction of Chinatown as a city within the larger city is intriguing, her writing is blunt, and the plot--including Charlie's struggles, successes, and her burgeoning relationship with a dance student--is predictable. The lack of surprise dulls the victories and revelations. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (June)

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