8Books Review: Troublemaker by John Cho

Yup, that’s right — actor extraordinaire John Cho is adding author to his impressive resume with his debut middle grade novel, Troublemaker. Set in LA on April 29, 1992 as riots are erupting, the book follows Jordan, a 12 year old Korean American boy who sets out on a dangerous journey to help his father.

The events of the book take place in an explosive and tense moment in history. The police officers filmed beating Rodney King had just acquitted and a young Black teen had recently been shot by a Korean store owner. Cho and his co-author Sarah Suk don’t shy away from the racial tensions that surround this moment, nor from the inherent violence. In fact, Jordan’s goal is to bring his father (who has left to board up their family’s liquor store) a gun. In the author’s note, Cho explains that he spent a lot of time considering these topics, thinking in particular about explaining what happened to George Floyd (re: race) to his own children and the active shooter drills they went through in school (re: guns). And so the story seeks to offers multiple insights into the racial attitudes of the day, including an encounter with an elderly Black man who explains to Jordan the racism he experiences at a Korean-owned burger joint. Cho says that, “Whatever attitudes about race that our story uncovered for Jordan, whether it was coming from outside his community or from within, we decided to leave it in if it felt authentic.”

Though set in this historically significant moment (that’s sadly highly relevant to today), this is also a heartfelt novel about family and expectations and growing pains. Jordan fears disappointing his family and has just had a Big Fight with his Appa. Through the course of the novel, we see him coming to a better understanding of who he is, his relationship with his big sister, and ends with a moving conversation with his Appa. Plus there’s a great ramyun scene.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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