Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party Book Poster Image
Gripping story, great intro to China's Cultural Revolution.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn what it was like growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution under strict Communist rule during the years 1972 through 1975. It's quite an eye-opener for American kids used to representative democracy, abundant products available in stores and homes, and freedom of thought, speech, and choice.

Positive Messages
Kids can survive, even in adversity, when they have strong values and the love of their family. Ling stands up to bullies, looks out for her neighbors, stays true to herself, and never gives up hope of realizing her dreams.
Positive Role Models & Representations

Young Ling (a stand-in for the author herself) shows incredible strength as she suffers bullies at school -- who taunt her for having educated parents (they are both doctors) and wearing flowery clothes deemed "bourgeois" -- and the trauma of seeing her neighbors and family members dragged out of their apartment building and arrested for alleged transgressions. Ling is smart and works hard at her studies and around the house, helping her mother. She chafes at her mother's control, like any tween (the novel covers Ling's experiences from age 9 through 12), but loves and respects her parents. He father, a surgeon, is kind, forward-thinking, and full of integrity, and secretly gives Ling English lessons in their living room, under a painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, which she dreams of seeing one day. (The author herself realized that dream and now lives with her American husband and their son in the San Francisco Bay Area.)


Several people, including children, are severely beaten; a boy is stabbed. There are two suicide attempts, one successful.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke, one gets drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this novel is a fictionalized memoir of the author's own experience and a gritty portrayal of everyday life in China during Mao's Cultural Revolution, where the population was terrorized by the government, Red Guards, and lived in constant fear amid deprivation. In the novel, children and adults are beaten, bullied, and menaced, and two adults attempt suicide, one successfully.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byhannah1991 October 23, 2020
This book taught me more about the Cultural Revolution, which in this novel took place during the Vietnam War (and when my mom was a kid, which was in the early... Continue reading
Adult Written bysmylee87 December 13, 2018

Graphic suicide scenes make it inappropriate for the recommended age group

This book was assigned to my 6th grader. I'm disappointed that a book with such a graphic discussion of suicide would be recommended for this age group.... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 14, 2019

A book that makes you never want to stop reading

I took a few weeks reading this book because I never wanted it to end. It does have some chapters that make you scared so I'd advice asking a parent or a t... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old June 15, 2013

Great book, but only for tweenagers and up.

I think this is a very good book and it educates children on that period in China's history. My only problem with it is that it might be confronting for ch... Continue reading

What's the story?

Ling is a child in China during the waning years of Mao's Cultural Revolution. She and her mother struggle to survive as food grows scarce and is rationed, electricity is interrupted, her doctor parents lose their jobs, and a political officer moves into their apartment, with the family getting no say in the matter. Ling's father is taken away to jail, she is targeted by bullies at school, and the family is persecuted by the Red Guards.

Is it any good?

As a storybook heroine, Ling is very relatable; her determined defiance of the bullies and Red Guards is admirable, exciting, and satisfying. The events of the book, carefully described so as not to be too overwhelming to the younger reader, often seem like escapades or adventures. Her growth in maturity and inner strength makes this as much a coming-of-age novel as an historical one. All of these features make it an excellent introduction for upper elementary and middle school readers to this frightening period in Chinese history.

To a Western child growing up in comfort and privilege, stories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution can be hard to understand as history. It can seem more like a tale of an insane asylum where the inmates have taken over, and the lack of sense and logic can be almost as frightening as the violence. Compestine's decision to fictionalize her memoir was a good one; it makes the history far more approachable than, say, a book such as Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang, which is more realistic but, by the same token, harder to relate to. REVOLUTION IS NOT A DINNER PARTY won many awards, including the California Book Award for Young Adult Fiction, made the 2007 Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Fiction list, and was named one of the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults in 2008, and was nominated for the California Young Readers Medal in 2012.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Cultural Revolution. Why was the government so harsh to its people? Why would neighbors turn each other in to be arrested? Why didn't the citizens fight back?

  • What are the main differences between communism and democracy as a system of government?

  • What do you think of Ling? Do you think you could be as strong as she is under such challenging circumstances? Can you imagine the government telling you that you have to accept a political officer moving into your home?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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