Unidentified Suburban Object

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Unidentified Suburban Object Book Poster Image
Quirky take on identity is surprising and funny.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Showcases some aspects of Korean culture, including mandu (dumplings) and hanbok clothing. Illustrates the frustration of being on the receiving end of cultural insensitivity.

Positive Messages

Knowing where you come from is an important part of figuring out who you are. Exploring family history can also raise troubling questions and trigger uncomfortable emotions -- but working through that is an essential part of the journey. Keeping secrets from loved ones can be poisonous. Trust, once broken, is difficult to restore. Reading fiction can help people work through real-world problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Chloe is energetic and enthusiastic, eager to go the extra distance to pursue her interests. She's proud of her success in school and in music, working very hard to do so well. She's also fiercely independent. She can be prickly toward others, but can give credit when due. Ms. Lee reaches out to Chloe and offers support, both academic and personal. Chloe's friend Shelley is patient and committed, willing to work through disagreements. Her parents are loving and acknowledge the damage they've done by betraying Chloe's trust. They argue over the choices they face, but commit to working together to help their daughter.

Violence & Scariness
Language

Some juvenile language including "jerk," "screwed," "crappy," and "butt-ugly."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unidentified Suburban Object is about a girl who feels doubly isolated: Not only is she part of the only Asian-American family in town, but her parents refuse to discuss their Korean heritage. Author Mike Jung tackles questions about identity including cultural pride, fitting in, standing out, and racial insensitivity with wry humor. He documents some of the countless tiny ways people's assumptions about race and culture can sting, from the people who think all Asian-Americans are alike to the classmate who claims that Asian people have a gene that makes them great violinists. Chloe, fed up with other people's assumptions (and ignorance) concerning Koreans, can be short-tempered toward others, but she clearly has a good heart.

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What's the story?

Chloe Cho sometimes feels like an alien as the only Asian-American at school in UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT. She bristles when classmates and teachers compare her to a famous Korean violinist, see her as an overachiever, confuse Koreans with other Asians, or admire her "exotic" fashion. Chloe's desperate to learn more of her Korean heritage, but her parents dodge her questions, saying the past is too painful. When a family history project that goes disastrously awry finally gets her parents to open up, the secret they reveal throws Chloe into a tailspin. Suddenly, Chloe's struggling in school, slipping in orchestra, and fighting with her parents and her best friend. Figuring out who she is proves harder than she ever thought possible.

Is it any good?

Mike Jung examines how the way we view ourselves is shaped by our understanding of our heritage and how others see us in this sharply funny, genre-bending novel about race, family, and identity. Unidentified Suburban Object vividly portrays how isolated Chloe Cho feels as she tries to connect with a Korean identity her parents reject. The novel takes a hard left turn halfway through that risks alienating some readers, but the payoff is an emotionally honest roller coaster trip with Chloe. She's justifiably angry and bitter over her parents' betrayal and feels more adrift than ever. She reinforces her sense of isolation by cutting herself off from everyone she's cared about, diving into fiction for clues to find a path forward. That path includes a touch of humility, a deeper understanding of close relationships, and a cliffhanger ending that suggests a sequel is in store. That's great news, because Chloe's journey seems to be just beginning.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racial insensitivity in Unidentified Suburban Object. How do you respond to comments that strike you as rude or ignorant? And how do you respond when someone calls you out for saying something that that person found rude or ignorant?

  • Have you noticed a connection between science fiction/fantasy and themes of racial identity? Which stories come to mind? And what do you think they were commenting on?

  • How did you feel about the genre-shifting turn halfway through the book?

Book details

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