By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Funny, harrowing, heartfelt tale of kid in '92 L.A. riots.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Provides a you-are-there sense of being a Korean kid amid the 1992 L.A. riots, the issues and injustices that boiled over into violence, the struggles of immigrants. A lot of Korean culture, from food to karaoke bars.
Strong messages of family, friendship, sticking with each other, working out differences. Also very strong message that bad behavior is bad behavior, no matter who's doing it to whom -- for example, White cops beating Rodney King, a Korean grocer shooting and killing a Black teen she suspects of shoplifting, Black rioters pulling a random White motorist from his vehicle. Comes to a strong conclusion that guns aren't protection but a tool to kill people, and that's very bad.
Positive Role Models
Twelve-year-old Jordan, aka Troublemaker, is pretty messed up as the story opens: at odds with his loving but stern father, overwhelmed by pressure and expectations, suspended from school due to cheating. But as he pursues his (hugely ill-advised) mission to bring his father a gun in hope of making things right, he learns quite a lot about himself and other people, learning better ways in the process. His best friend Mike, who Jordan's parents think is a bad influence -- and not without cause, since he's been ripping off his parents' restaurant for months -- also proves a true and loyal friend, and winds up on a better path. Older brother Hae Dang, known for escapades like printing up fake IDs so he and his friends can go gambling, also comes through in unexpected ways. Jordan's parents, strict but loving, left Korea to give their kids a better life; now they often find the challenges overwhelming. The tweens encounter Black, Latino, and Asian characters who offer different life experiences, shedding light on the explosive violence a few blocks away.
Violence & Scariness
Narrative involves 12-year-old kid on a quest to make things right with his dad by bringing him a gun (unloaded) in the midst of the 1992 L.A. riots. Rioting is a constant presence and threat, destroying livelihoods and safety. Violence, often deadly, against Black people -- particularly the beating of Rodney King and the killing of a teen falsely suspected of shoplifting -- as well as the wearing experience of having the new owners of a burger place that your family's been patronizing for generations watch your every move because you're Black. Two 12-year-old best friends get into a fight and beat each other up.
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Products & Purchases
Occasional mention of '90s brands, TV shows Full House and Home Improvement, Nintendo games.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Jordan's parents own a liquor store, and protecting it is important to them. Mention of karaoke bars. Jordan's father and other adults smoke.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Troublemaker is a turbulent, fast-moving tale set in 1992, by actor-author John Cho (of Harold and Kumar fame). It's told from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old Korean American kid who decides to mend his troubled relationship with his dad by bringing him a gun (unloaded) to protect the family liquor store amid the rioting in Los Angeles in the wake of the acquittal of four police officers who severely beat Rodney King. Young Jordan is already not the best decision maker, having just been suspended from school for cheating, and along with his BFF Mike (who steals from his family restaurant, among other bad deeds), he manages to make numerous bonehead choices and get in a lot more trouble -- but also get aid and wisdom from kindly Black, Latino, and Asian adults and teens along the way. Amid the violence on the streets and the TV screen, there's a strong anti-gun message, and an even stronger message that cruel, mean, or violent behavior is wrong no matter who's doing it to whom. Jordan's parents immigrated from Korea in search of a better life for their kids, and their woes and worries are presented in a relatable way.
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What's the Story?
It's April 29, 1992, and shaping up to be a really bad day for 12-year-old Korean American Jordan, who's just gotten suspended for cheating, the latest episode in his TROUBLEMAKER career. Los Angeles is about to erupt in days of rioting in the wake of the acquittal of four White police officers who severely beat Black motorist Rodney King. Jordan's father, with whom he had a huge falling out weeks earlier, has gone to protect the family's liquor store from rioters, and Jordan, rarely the best decision maker, decides to make things right by bringing his father a gun for protection. Jordan can't read a map and has no idea how to get there, but soon he and his delinquent friend Mike (whose stolen cash is part of the plot) are off on a quest in which they regularly make poor choices but also receive much-needed help and wisdom from adult characters as they navigate the burning city. Along the way, those characters give them a lot of insights into the injustice, discrimination, and plain old mean behavior that led to the current violence.
Is It Any Good?
John Cho's tale of a 12-year-old Korean kid in Los Angeles as the 1992 riots unfold offers a kid's-eye view of the racism, violence, and plain old meanness underlying the upheaval. Troublemaker Jordan, abetted by his BFF Mike, makes a lot of breathtakingly poor choices as he decides to mend his fractured relationship with his dad by bringing him a gun (unloaded) to protect the family store from rioters, but older and wiser characters intervene at the right moment, sharing their experiences and wisdom. Friendship and family finally carry the day, but there are some bumps and rifts along the way -- most of which end up making Jordan and Mike kinder, more empathetic kids as they learn what life's like for other people.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about stories of immigrant families where the children, growing up in a new country, don't see things the same way as their parents -- as Jordan and his parents are often at odds in Troublemaker. What other stories do you know that deal with this theme? How do you like the way Troublemaker shows these issues?
Do you think it's OK to take out your anger on someone who's done you wrong by doing wrong to another person who's done nothing? Why, or why not?
Church is a big part of the Korean American community that includes Jordan's family, both for religious guidance and for social gathering and connection. What kind of communities gather around religious belief where you live? What do you know about them?
- Author: John Cho
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: March 22, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: January 30, 2023
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Where to Read
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