A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
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