Yoo, David. Girls for Breakfast. Laurel Leaf, 2006. ISBN 978-0440238836. 304 pp. $6.99
This amusing memoir-style novel chronicles the protagonist’s early development and interest in the opposite sex. Humor ensues. Nick Parks, high school senior, is the only Korean in his suburban Connecticut neighborhood, and in spite of his athletic inclinations he never makes the popular crowd cut. We quickly see that girls are his downfall, and the most likely cause of the disastrous event has lead him to the top of the town’s water tower, where he hides out instead of attending graduation rehearsal. Cut scenes of pivotal childhood moments lead up to the reason for his self-exile: first Playboy, first cigarette, first time called a banana (yellow outside, white inside).
The story is well plotted, if a bit clumsily executed: instead of transitions, we have to rely on both tense shift and large chapter headings to make us aware of the shift from flashbacks to present tense, but the clever scenes where Nick’s perceived mastery in kung-fu comes full circle, and the ensuing process through which he realizes he might be at fault for his problems, is pure dead brillance.
As promised on the Wheaties box spoof cover, hilarious self-deprecating humor is the additive that balances out weighty issues such as racism and budding sexuality. Nick’s mother composes atrocious East meets West cuisine in the form of spaghetti and meatballs with kimchee, and a band concert gone wrong is all the fodder Nick’s father needs to push his son to focus on his tennis game, not jazz. Although the tale takes place in the 80’s and the scenes are orchestrated to the music, style and slang of the times, it could just have easily taken place in present day, and nothing in the story will alienate today’s adolescents.
Language and content may be shocking, but it’s all authentic, as is the central conflict of identity. We need more good books for boys, and this coming of age story tells it like it is, in all of it’s funny, embarrassing, and confusing moments, without being gratuitous or titillating. Recommended for larger collections.
Review by Beth Gallaway