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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka 
1st-Mar-2006 08:03 pm
Recommended to me by gogoangelgunboy.

A boy from Hawaii attended my middle school for a short time. I remember two things: 1) He was quite friendly, at least toward me, struck up conversations with me, and wanted to sit with me during lunch. At the time, I didn't think anything, but I now know that's because I was the only Asian face in a sea of white, and he must've felt most comfortable around me. 2) He got into a violent fight one day in the cafeteria with a bunch of boys. It's the only fight I ever saw or knew about in all my years of school. After it happened, he never came back to school; his parents enrolled him in a private school somewhere. (They had to have been reasonably well-off.) This book reminds me of this kid.

Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. Name Me Nobody. 1999. New York: Hyperion, 2000.
Summary: Emi-Lou's problems begin after joining the softball team with her friend Von. While trying to lose weight, she has to deal with her jealousy over Von's (female) lover, with her classmate Kyle extorting her for essays and even trying to rape her, and with a boyfriend torn between wanting her and wanting the popular girl. Then Von's family finds out that she's a lesbian, and Sterling starts two-timing her. Emi-Lou feels like a nobody. But, in the end, the friends admit that they were all being jerks and decide to start over. Emi-Lou joins the softball team again, and this time she is doing it for herself, not her friend.
Comments: Ugly and mean-spirited. Ugly because the prose (though the dialogue, which is almost entirely in pidgin, made for great local flavor...if only they said more of substance!) was flat and lifeless, which may be a factor of the target readership age--I don't know as I've not read any of Yamanaka's adult novels. Mean-spirited because, I mean, dammit, EVERYONE in this novel was a self-centered, whiny jerk or an outright bully! Heck, I was undoubtedly fatter than Emi-Lou at her age, and I never had to deal with bullying or name-calling. Not ever. Not to mention that pretty much everyone is prejudiced, and they're not afraid to say so. All they seem to care about is sports and status. Oh, and they're violent too, especially the girls. Is it really that bad in Hawaii? Or is Hilo some sort of low-income ghetto? (Didn't seem that way...) The characters weren't especially interesting, either, certainly not worth the time of day that they all spent angsting about each other. Moreover, I wasn't entirely convinced by the subplot involving Emi-Lou's struggle to overcome her homophobia. She seemed more jealous than pissed off on principle. A badly-executed moment. I'm not thrilled, either, about the way in which laxatives and diuretics are shown to be the route to peer acceptance. Though Yamanaka tried for a happy ending, it comes quickly and feels somewhat insincere. The meanness leaves a far more lasting impression and blackens the book irreparably.
Notes: young adult paperback, 3rd printing
Rating: 2/10 - Talk about a feel-bad book. Not recommended to fragile young adults, though I suppose it makes for an interesting "case study" of some pretty messed up high school students from Hawaii.
2nd-Mar-2006 04:29 am (UTC)
I read a different novel by her, I can't remember the title right now, but everyone in that one was a celf-centered, whiny jerk, too. And/or borderline mentally ill. Or not-so-borderline mentally ill.
2nd-Mar-2006 04:52 am (UTC)
profound apologies. i knew there was a reason i didn't recommend books to people.
perhaps it just doesn't travel well.
2nd-Mar-2006 05:20 am (UTC)
Nah, it was really interesting, actually. I never would've read her work at all if you hadn't suggested it. So thanks for that. Seriously. ^_^ I liked the use of pidgin and wished she'd written the entire book in it instead of just the dialogue (so much potential there!), and the world it depicted went along well with the experiences of other people I know from Hawaii. It's just that the petty meanness was...awe-inspiring.
2nd-Mar-2006 05:32 am (UTC)
don't ever, ever read her book blu's hanging - it's so cruel you can't look away, like watching a car-wreck in slow motion.
*grin* and yeah, hilo's kind of a dump...

she DOES have the dubious distiction of being the only asian writer i've ever heard be accused of being bigoted against asians.
2nd-Mar-2006 05:40 am (UTC)
*grin* and yeah, hilo's kind of a dump...

Well, that explains a lot! >_<

she DOES have the dubious distiction of being the only asian writer i've ever heard be accused of being bigoted against asians.

She (if we assume that character view equals author view) seemed bigoted against EVERYONE in Name Me Nobody, actually. However, a lot of Asian-American women writers, including heavyweights Amy Tan and Maxine Hong-Kingston, indulge in a self-hating meanness to a degree.

What really galled me (and why I gave it a 4/10) was that this is a kid's book--I mean really now! Do you want your eleven-year-old girl to be reading about a heroine who gets the adulation of her peers by getting thin on laxatives and diuretics and by the end is planning to go back on that diet to correct her "wayward" life? Yamanaka is a good writer, but she shouldn't be writing books for children.

In any case, though, I wouldn't worry too much about your recommending skills if I were you. Kiss of the Spider Woman is one the two best books I've read so far this year. ^__^
1st-Apr-2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
Review archived.
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