Background: Like Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), The Year of the Dog was a book my parents bought for me at the NATWA conference, and for the same reasons holds special significance for me.
My Summary: The book tackles the theme of fitting in and focuses on a semi-autobiographical character called Pacy, who is a Taiwanese American girl living in an area where she is one of few Asians. Like many books of its kind, it addresses the growing pains of being a person of color in a very white environment, but it also weaves in a lot of positive aspects of Pacy’s Asian American identity, showcased through scenes and stories-within-stories involving her family members.
Review: The Year of the Dog is the book I wish I’d had as a younger reader, in elementary school. I first read it when I was in 8th grade, which was beyond the target audience range, but I still found it highly enjoyable and relatable.
As I read about Pacy celebrating various Taiwanese/Chinese holidays, I couldn’t help but smile and recall my own similar experiences. And when I came upon the various microaggressions that Pacy deals with, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own history with racism, both blatant and subtle. Like Pacy, I grew up in an area with very few Asian people, so I was always hyper aware of my difference, my “other”-ness. Thus, Grace Lin’s inclusion of these details and the recognition of the power they have to influence your emotional state and long-term self-image was hugely validating for me.
Aside from exploring cultural and racial identity, the book also focuses on Pacy’s individual journey to “find herself” as she discovers her talent for drawing. Accompanying the text are illustrations by Grace Lin herself that help breathe life into the characters and setting of the book. You can really feel Pacy’s personality in the illustrations, which are a window to her world and a useful visual aid for people who are unfamiliar with the culture.
Recommendation: If you know someone in elementary school, give them this book. And if you’re older and don’t mind reading a book for younger reader’s, definitely give it a read.