Monday, December 10, 2012

Mulberry Project by Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park reminds me of Lowis Lowry as a writer. You always get a well-crafted, unique story with characters' that have distinct voices and a tight plot. She's also such a sophisticated writer, I don't think readers always get what she's doing. Take the metafictional narrative that occurs between the author and the protagonist in this story. On the outset, it is a story about a girl and her best friend doing a project about silkworms for a state fair competition. Themes abound regarding friendship, prejudice, conservation, ethnic identity, sibling rivalry, phobias, and more. On the inset, there is a metafictional narrative going on between the author and the protagonist. The literary device called, metafiction, is fiction that self-consciously reflects upon itself. Or in simpler terms it is fiction about fiction. This technique can be found in oodles of books such as It's a Book by Lane Smith, Lulu Walks the Dog by Judith Viorst, The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, or Don Quixote, to name a few. I thought Park's use of this technique elevated this book and made it more engaging. However, from the reviews I read it seems that some find it annoying or distracting. You decide.

Julia and Patrick are doing a silkworm project for the state fair through a club at school. Julia thinks the project is "too Korean" and that she already stands out at school as the only Korean-American, but Patrick is so excited that she doesn't say anything to him out loud. Actually they don't really brainstorm other possibilities resulting in friendship problems that they have to resolve as the project progresses.

Julia becomes involved with caring for the silkworms to such a point that she doesn't realize what she must do to extract the silk. When she finds out she gets into an enormous fight with Patrick about how silk is farmed and her feelings are further complicated from a field trip that discussed the ethical treatment of domesticated animals used to feed the population. The topics are heavy but Park doesn't overwhelm the storyline with them. The plot is driven by the character and she adds tension and different themes creating a nice pace.

The senses are engaged in the beginning with the description of the Korean spicy food, kimchee, that one character hates and the other adores. The main character is likable and flawed which makes it easy to identify with her. I did find it hard to believe that she would have problems with the worms and making silk, but I'm not the most sensitive person and I could buy it that another might feel that strongly about what they were doing (can you tell I'm trying to not give away the problem and spoil the fun of discovering it as you read the book). I did like that Patrick emails her the same questions that I wondered about and I could relate more to his feelings than Julia's.

The plot doesn't have loose ends and I found myself admiring how well Park crafts the story. I had questions about the mom's attitude and I liked the unique answer at the end which is appropriate to the fact that the book is in the first person point of view so the reader isn't going to know about the mom's prejudices. I thought it was very real because Julia was so sensitive and it was hard for her to even discuss her feelings about the project with her best friend, much less confront her mother on a complex and serious topic. In the end, the state fair results are given and it was refreshing and realistic what happens to the pair, vesus a perfect-type ending where all the characters' dreams come true.

Julia has a question and answer conversation with the author that is funny and gives the reader a glimpse into what it is like to craft a story. I really enjoyed this technique and thought it elevated the book even more as it tried to do something different than the normal kids-doing-a-school-project story. Like I said earlier, some might find it distracting to the story. I thought it was done sparingly enough to not be a nuisance. I also thought it answered many of the questions I had as I was reading.

If you like Park's novels then I would suggest trying books by the author Kate Messner; both have plots that emphasize science and math, have multiple themes, and strong female characters. 

Reading Level 4.8
Fountas & Pinnell: S

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