Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, by Judy Fong Bates, is a novel, somewhat semiautobiographical, describing the protagonist's upbringing in a small town in Ontario. I read this book because it was a part of Multnomah County Library's "Everybody Reads" program, and the library bookstore had many copies to sell.

One of the previous books in the "Everybody reads" program was The Kite Runner, and "Midnight at the Dragon Cafe" is somewhat similar to it in two respects: first, it deals with people from a different culture, and secondly it is written in very straightforward prose. In fact, if I had to point out a single feature of this book that stands out, is the totally unadorned, easily digestible prose style. This makes the book easy to read, and that is usually the first thing that recommends a book to me.

The content of the book is a little predictable, which doesn't necessarily make it bad. The protagonist arrives in Ontario as a young girl, and learns to live between two worlds: her parent's restaurant, where they toil to make a living, and live by the customs that they grew up with; and the world of a young person trying to adjust a different culture, with the attendant dramas of childhood and early adolescence. There is also one major plot point to the book that is somewhat unusual, but it doesn't effect the overall thematic development of the story.

I have two major complaints about the book. The first is that the simple prose is a little bit too simple: in one of the books climactic scenes, the emotional tone of the book should have gotten a little bit more...emotional. My other complaint has to do with how Chinese culture is portrayed in most North American literature, even (or especially) when written by Chinese immigrants themselves. Most of these books (with The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan as an exemplar) portray the common culture of China, which seems mostly to revolve around superstitions, social climbing and position, and the need to conform to social standards of appearance or behavior. At least to the immigrant children in these books, there is nothing about Chinese culture that could be seen as liberating or instructive. Chinese culture is usually portrayed as a set of rules that must be either coped with or escaped so that the child can fit in with their new society.

None of those criticisms should distract from the fact that this is a readable book, and one where the reader will develop some sympathy and understanding for the characters.

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