A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.)
Violence & Scariness
Several people, including children, are severely beaten; a boy is stabbed. There are two suicide attempts, one successful.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke, one gets drunk.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.