In Everything Asian, Dae Joon Kim is a 12 year old kid whose family has just moved from Korea to New Jersey. Or more precisely, Dae Joon, his mother and his sister have come from Korea to join the father who has been living there alone for five years. The novel depicts their struggle to reintegrate as a family, as well as to make it in America.
The setting is an outdoor strip mall in New Jersey called “Peddlers Town.” The various shops and shopkeepers there serve as minor characters. Although Dae Joon (more often known as “Joon-a,” as his mother calls him) is the central character, some of the chapters make these minor characters the main focus. The point of view switches to theirs while the Koreans become secondary. At other times, the chapter is from the point of view of the mother, or from Hong, another shop owner in the mall.
It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Together, the chapters form an image of this Korean boy’s life in suburbia, and in accordance with contemporary literature, it’s readable, the plot moves ever forward, and even when the characters are miserable, one isn’t allowed to dwell on it for long. One moves on to other problems.
The story of the first generation Asian American is one of the great unsolved puzzles of contemporary literature. Although this latest attempt doesn’t resolve it completely, it hits the board a little closer to the mark.