Book Review: Turning the Corner
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
At not even twelve years old, Ruozhen Ma imbues her writing with a charm and insightfulness well beyond her years.
“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I haven’t discovered my talent and interest yet. I feel like I am digging in the dark tunnel and constantly bumping into tree roots.”
The fifth grade is a year of transition. It signals the change from childhood to young adulthood, from formative elementary school into daunting middle school. And with society only recently emerging from the isolation and discombobulation of the pandemic, tackling fifth grade can be an even more anxiety-inducing task.
Ruozhen Ma’s debut novel is a look into the new norm of children across America. Being that Ma was the same age as the characters she writes about, there is a deeper intimacy and truthfulness in her stories. Turning the Corner is a delightful book about a Chinese American girl’s anxieties and triumphs as she navigates the trials of fifth grade.
“But the problem is, I’m also very hardworking! I worked hard on Chinese, math, piano, and swimming from a young age. Why am I not that good? I guess that’s probably because I really don’t have talent for these things. Where is my talent?”
Ruozhen has always been a hard worker, and she is pushed to be her best self by her kind parents. She has always practiced hard at piano, swimming, writing, and everything else she has set her mind to. So, why was that she is always feeling that she’s not as good as her classmates or teammates?
Well, 2022 is the year of the Tiger – Ruozhen’s zodiac year – and her mother has supplied her with a year’s worth of lucky red underwear, so this is bound to be the year where her luck turns around for the better. With the support of her parents and friends Orange and Olive, Ruozhen just might have luck in winning the school writing contest, making her way out of the embarrassment of selecting an opposite gender partner for a class project, and selecting the perfect elective for her first year in middle school.
“I actually feel lucky that Mom told me about these things before this Maturation class, or else I probably would be fainting at this moment. All the time during the video I can still hear girls clucking like chickens and whispering to each other.”
Ma’s writing focuses more on her emotions and reactions to the events that transpire, more than the events themselves. Ma’s writing is internal and intimate in nature rather than focused on storytelling. After reading this piece of Ma’s work, it is no surprise that she has found success in poetry writing. Her writing is full of lyricism and imagery. Writing at such a young age, Ma grapples with the complex questions of what personal success looks like and what tasks are worth pursuing.
“Suddenly, I hear something inside of me. A tiger’s roar, and a flaming wall of fire, ready to explode. I am surprised; I have never known it was there until now, so strong and clear.”
Ma seems to have a knack for creative metaphor and similes. What I wish I had seen more of in this book is for the writing to lean more into that imagery. For example, Ma likens puberty to a lava monster or the feeling of ostracization to being “a plastic bird in a flock of peacocks.” In a few of these moments, she merely makes statements like, “Talking about puberty feels scary, like a lava monster,” the one time and doesn’t further explain the imagery. I think that her writing would be more vibrant than it already is if she were able to expand on and play with these images a bit more.
“I hadn’t felt lucky all the way, I felt that I wasn’t lucky enough. But to be honest, I was actually very lucky to have such a very good experience.”
Turning the Corner is a book for kids, written by a kid. Because of her closeness to her source material, Ma is able to capture an accurate and entertaining perspective on the trials and tribulations of elementary school. I highly recommend this book to other elementary school students who are preparing for the daunting task of transitioning to middle school.
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Asian & Asian American Literature
Print Length: 171 pages
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