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From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing. Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been lim From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing. Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher. But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.


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From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing. Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been lim From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing. Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher. But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

30 review for Mambo in Chinatown

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jean Kwok

    Since I'm the author, I obviously need to give this book five stars. Whatever your rating or review, thank you so much for reading and I really appreciate it. If you'd like to leave a comment for me by replying to this review, I'd love to hear from you! Sometimes the Goodreads notifications get lost in my inbox, so it might take me a little bit to respond. Thanks again! :-)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    I have to say that while I found parts of the story interesting, other parts left me completely underwhelmed. I really wanted to like this one. Initially it grabbed me, and I found myself quickly turning pages. I liked the Chinese culture and I really thought that Charlie was a character that I could root for. Unfortunately, all of the Chinese medical treatment descriptions and her sister Lisa's "mysterious" health condition (which I had figured out way before the author finally decided to revea I have to say that while I found parts of the story interesting, other parts left me completely underwhelmed. I really wanted to like this one. Initially it grabbed me, and I found myself quickly turning pages. I liked the Chinese culture and I really thought that Charlie was a character that I could root for. Unfortunately, all of the Chinese medical treatment descriptions and her sister Lisa's "mysterious" health condition (which I had figured out way before the author finally decided to reveal it) really bogged the story down. It grew to be quite repetitive. Charlie's father was definitely a character that could use a good slap too, with his constant refusal to get his daughter the true help that she needed. The actual dancing part of the story was what originally drew me to the book. I really felt like the author dropped the ball here. It seemed to me like someone who really doesn't know a lot about dancing decided to write a book about dancing. She left large gaps in between each of Charlie's developmental stages, and left the reader to somehow believe that Charlie, who starts out the book as a dishwasher, can just magically become a competition level dancer who is good enough to give dancing lessons. Sorry, but I couldn't buy that. The author did a lot more telling than showing. The other part of the story that was a let-down for me was in the relationship between Charlie and Ryan. We are led to believe that there is a great chemistry between them that also shows up in their dancing. Nope. It just didn't come across for me. The ending of the book was also a bit odd. Suddenly Charlie's father does a 180 turn-around, and then everything gets tied up into a pretty little predictable bow. Then the author chooses a very odd place to just stop writing. I kept trying to turn the page to see if there was any more, but alas... no. So, unfortunately, for me this book was just a slightly below-average read. (I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    [2.8] I like the premise of this fairytale set in Chinatown and an upper east side dance studio. I didn't mind its predictability but was distracted by the wooden writing and disappointed by the flat characters. I recall enjoying "Girl in Translation" more. Perhaps a sophomore slump for Kwok? Still...the story kept me reading to the end.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    It’s been many years since I was twenty-two, and I’m not ABC (American-born Chinese), and I’ve never had to choke down a traditional medicine brewed from the intimate body parts of strange animals to please a parent, but Charlie Wong is the kind of character it’s easy to relate to. Clumsy, imperfect, and devoted to her father and brilliant but troubled younger sister Lisa, Charlie has been working long hours as a dishwasher when Mambo in Chinatown opens, hoping for a chance at a better life. Tha It’s been many years since I was twenty-two, and I’m not ABC (American-born Chinese), and I’ve never had to choke down a traditional medicine brewed from the intimate body parts of strange animals to please a parent, but Charlie Wong is the kind of character it’s easy to relate to. Clumsy, imperfect, and devoted to her father and brilliant but troubled younger sister Lisa, Charlie has been working long hours as a dishwasher when Mambo in Chinatown opens, hoping for a chance at a better life. That opportunity comes when Lisa shows Charlie a want ad posted by a dance studio looking for a receptionist. It’s the kind of job Charlie has failed at before, organization and reading are big challenges for her, but she is determined to try even harder to succeed this time. Her mother, who died several years before, had been a star soloist with the Beijing Ballet back in China and Charlie is hoping that being around dancers will ease the pain of missing her. Charlie has to hide most details about her new job from her gentle, protective father, a man not comfortable with American ways, and things don’t exactly go as planned at the studio, but just as Charlie starts spreading her wings her sister Lisa begins having some frightening and confusing health problems. Charlie struggles to balance respect for her father’s Chinese values with her rapidly changing life and perspectives, and Lisa’s illness brings that conflict out in the open. The pleasures of this novel include a little romance, a lot of dance--the author knows her way around a dance floor and that adds fun to the story--and the dual Chinatown and dance studio settings, with richly detailed cultures and a full range of characters for both worlds. Even secondary characters are given motivations, back stories, and personalities that tug at the heart.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    SWEDISH REVIEW Mambo i Chinartown var en härlig överraskning! Jag hade hoppas på en småtrevlig bok, men jag räknade inte alls med att boken skulle vara så fängslade och förtjusande att det var svårt att lägga ifrån sig den. Boken lyckas med att både vara rolig och allvarlig och Charlies förvandling som sker gradvis genom bokens handling är underbar att följa. Men det är kulturkrocken mellan öst och väst som ger boken en special känsla. Jean Kwok har verkligen lyckats med att beskriva problem f SWEDISH REVIEW Mambo i Chinartown var en härlig överraskning! Jag hade hoppas på en småtrevlig bok, men jag räknade inte alls med att boken skulle vara så fängslade och förtjusande att det var svårt att lägga ifrån sig den. Boken lyckas med att både vara rolig och allvarlig och Charlies förvandling som sker gradvis genom bokens handling är underbar att följa. Men det är kulturkrocken mellan öst och väst som ger boken en special känsla. Jean Kwok har verkligen lyckats med att beskriva problem för en ung kvinna född i Amerika med kinesiska föräldrar. Charlies pappa är t.ex. emot västerländsk medicin och vägrar låta Charlies lillasyster Lisa få läkarhjälp när hon blir sjuk. han förlitar sig istället på österländska traditioner för att finna vad som är fel på henne. Han är förövrigt inte världens bästa stöd för systrarna (trots att han älskar dem) och mycket av den yttervärldens kontakt som t.ex. skola får Charlie ta hand om när det gäller Lisa. Det enda jag kan säga om boken som jag inte gillade var slutet. Eller rättare sagt att boken tog slut. Jag skulle ha velat läsa mer om Charlie, hennes familj och hennes vänner och fått reda på vad som händer härnäst. Tack till Bazar Förlag för recensionexemplaret! ENGLISH REVIEW Mambo in Chinatown was a delightful surprise! I had hoped that the book would be pleasant to read, but I never thought that it would be both engrossing and charming. And, hard to put down. The book manages to be both funny and serious and Charlie's transformation that occurs gradually throughout the books is wonderful to follow. However, it's the culture clash between east and west that gives the books a special atmosphere. Jean Kwok has really managed to describe the problems a young girl faces in America with parents from China. Charlie's father is for instance against western medicine and refuses to let Charlie's little sister Lisa have medical aid when she gets sick. Instead, he relies on eastern traditions to try to find out what's wrong with her. He is, to be honest not the always the best support for the sisters (despite that he loves them) and much of the outside world contact like school is Charlie the one that has to deal with when it comes to Lisa. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the ending. Or rather that the book ended. I would have loved to read more about Charlie, her family and friends and what will happen next to them all. thanks to Bazar Förlag for the review copy!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauri Saplad

    Fab-u-lous! This is a triumphant story. The proverbial ugly duckling transforms herself with a lot of assistance from new and old friends. Charlie, a motherless child, must help her family with virtually no one to help her through adolescence and into adulthood. She lives the immigrant experience trying to assimilate from traditional Chinese culture into the American way of life. She must work long hours at a menial job and help support her family and raise her gifted younger sister. Suddenly op Fab-u-lous! This is a triumphant story. The proverbial ugly duckling transforms herself with a lot of assistance from new and old friends. Charlie, a motherless child, must help her family with virtually no one to help her through adolescence and into adulthood. She lives the immigrant experience trying to assimilate from traditional Chinese culture into the American way of life. She must work long hours at a menial job and help support her family and raise her gifted younger sister. Suddenly opportunity presents itself and not only will Charlie be able to change her life, she will have the chance to be happy and at peace...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    *I received this book as part of the First-reads giveaways* My mother-in-law and I had a conversation not too long ago about what constitutes a 5-star rating for a book. Is it a good story? Is it fabulous writing? Is it the perfect mixture of both? Is it something else? Up until this reading this book, I was a 'perfect mixture' kind of girl. This story, however, was so entertaining and sentimental that I just couldn't stop reading! The writing was relatively straightforward, not a whole lot of sy *I received this book as part of the First-reads giveaways* My mother-in-law and I had a conversation not too long ago about what constitutes a 5-star rating for a book. Is it a good story? Is it fabulous writing? Is it the perfect mixture of both? Is it something else? Up until this reading this book, I was a 'perfect mixture' kind of girl. This story, however, was so entertaining and sentimental that I just couldn't stop reading! The writing was relatively straightforward, not a whole lot of symbolism going on, but I felt deeply connected to Charlie, and thought that she was a very well developed, thought out character. Both of her worlds (her home life and the dancing studio) brought out different parts of her personality, and I thought Kwon did an excellent job portraying the struggle Charlie felt in being accepted for who she was in general. I will say, however, that some of the phrases used were a little corny, and somewhat out of place. Like a professional dance teacher telling her students that there is a strict 'no hanky-panky' policy. Seriously, who says hanky-panky anymore? All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I have a feeling this copy will be one that is passed around and greatly loved by all. Oh, and has this been optioned for a movie yet? Because it would be a great one. :)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Manhattan's Chinatown and two girls, now motherless but living with their father in a very limited area. For me, the most interesting part of this book was the adjustment that the girls had to make in staying true to their culture while harboring dreams that would take them out of it. This happens with the oldest girl, when she gets a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio. Her deceased mother had been a ballerina in Beijing and this job makes her fell closer to her mother. Her father, Manhattan's Chinatown and two girls, now motherless but living with their father in a very limited area. For me, the most interesting part of this book was the adjustment that the girls had to make in staying true to their culture while harboring dreams that would take them out of it. This happens with the oldest girl, when she gets a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio. Her deceased mother had been a ballerina in Beijing and this job makes her fell closer to her mother. Her father, though, is suspicious of anything considered Western. I enjoyed reading about their traditional medicine at odds with the Western view and ways of the same. Their uncle is a highly thought of doctor of the traditional or Eastern medicine and the younger sister, who is only eleven, works in his shop. I don't think I will ever forget the part of (view spoiler)[ the snake pansies, or rat fetuses. There were a few parts and a few circumstances that just did not ring true for me, but on the whole a good read. (hide spoiler)]

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Kwok is back with her second book and it is as good as her first one. Dealing with the issues of family and change against the backdrop of being an American Born Chinese, our heroine, Charlie, must balance what she is able to do, what is expected of her, and how to be both mother and sister to her middle school aged younger sister with a father who has checked out of life following the death of her mother. Charlie is an untreated dyslexic who finds life is not so bad once she learns that she tak Kwok is back with her second book and it is as good as her first one. Dealing with the issues of family and change against the backdrop of being an American Born Chinese, our heroine, Charlie, must balance what she is able to do, what is expected of her, and how to be both mother and sister to her middle school aged younger sister with a father who has checked out of life following the death of her mother. Charlie is an untreated dyslexic who finds life is not so bad once she learns that she takes after her late mother with a particular talent. Her talent flies in the face of all her family and cultural expectations for her, and yet she succeeds. This is set against the backdrop of Chinese culture, but it resonates with all backgrounds. It is about how we change to become ourselves, and how those around us deal or do not deal with the change.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lorrie

    Second book I've read in the past month about Chinese Americans. This was extremely good! Listened to it as an audio in the car and definitely wanted to keep driving some trips instead of get out of the car! What I especially appreciated was the lesson I received in the Chinese culture (how to/not to use chop sticks, the medicinal beliefs, the holiday customs, for instance). The family unit of Pa, Charlie and Lisa was well developed and strongly knit. The extended family, uncle & aunt, were a lit Second book I've read in the past month about Chinese Americans. This was extremely good! Listened to it as an audio in the car and definitely wanted to keep driving some trips instead of get out of the car! What I especially appreciated was the lesson I received in the Chinese culture (how to/not to use chop sticks, the medicinal beliefs, the holiday customs, for instance). The family unit of Pa, Charlie and Lisa was well developed and strongly knit. The extended family, uncle & aunt, were a little harder to see; however, the love between brothers was very evident. I thought I understood where the book was going and knew what the outcome was going to be. I was left guessing and surprised at one outcome. For this surprise, I had to pull the disk out of my car and bring it into the house to listen to this afternoon. Good read!!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    3.5 Stars - This was an enjoyable book for the most part. I enjoyed learning about the world of ballroom dancing and Jean Kwok brings that world, as well as the world in New York Chinatown to life. Taking the journey as Charlie grows from an awkward and shy woman into a beautiful and confident swan made the book, well worth the read. However, I found the story predictable, the younger sister extremely whiney and the struggle of the family far too ordinary. I fell in love with her debut book Gir 3.5 Stars - This was an enjoyable book for the most part. I enjoyed learning about the world of ballroom dancing and Jean Kwok brings that world, as well as the world in New York Chinatown to life. Taking the journey as Charlie grows from an awkward and shy woman into a beautiful and confident swan made the book, well worth the read. However, I found the story predictable, the younger sister extremely whiney and the struggle of the family far too ordinary. I fell in love with her debut book Girl in Translation, but this one fell a little flat for me. However, this was an admirable sophomore effort.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sanna G.

    I began to see beauty as something that could be unleashed from within a person rather than a set of physical features like a perfect nose or big eyes. Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok is a lighthearted and warm feel-good where we get to follow Charlie, a 22 year old girl with big dreams. Through the book Charlie really evolves and blooms as a person, it's captivating to follow her changes. Charlie is without a doubt my favorite characters but I also really liked Lisa, Nina, Ryan, Zan, Mo Li I began to see beauty as something that could be unleashed from within a person rather than a set of physical features like a perfect nose or big eyes. Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok is a lighthearted and warm feel-good where we get to follow Charlie, a 22 year old girl with big dreams. Through the book Charlie really evolves and blooms as a person, it's captivating to follow her changes. Charlie is without a doubt my favorite characters but I also really liked Lisa, Nina, Ryan, Zan, Mo Li and of course everyone at the dance studio. I picked this book up on a book sale so I didn't know what to expect, but I gotta say that this was a really fun and interesting read. I'm Swedish so I know near to nothing about the Chinese traditions and culture so reading this book thought me quite a lot about their culture, which I really enjoyed. Kwok's way of writing makes every chapter captivating and as a reader I want to find out if certain things happens so much that it's tempting to go to the last chapters. This is the first book I've read by the author but I will definitely read more of her work in the future. (view spoiler)[ The only thing I would have liked to know more about in the end of the book is if Adrienne and Dominic every found out about Charlie & Ryan's romance while Charlie still was Ryan's teacher. If they didn't, did Charlie ever tell them? How did they react? And did Charlie & Ryan continue dancing together? (hide spoiler)] ⭐️ Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok gets a strong 3/5 stars from me!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Rating: 3/5 stars Recommended? Yes Let me start off by stating that I have already read Jean Kwok's first novel, Girl in Translation. I enjoyed this debut novel, but I feel Mambo in Chinatown falls short of the magic Kwok captured in Girl in Translation. Kwok's writing is still concise, straightforward, and, overall, very easy and pleasant to read. There are times where details border on excessive, but it's easily overlooked when you understand they are mostly necessary. Mambo in Chinatown involves Rating: 3/5 stars Recommended? Yes Let me start off by stating that I have already read Jean Kwok's first novel, Girl in Translation. I enjoyed this debut novel, but I feel Mambo in Chinatown falls short of the magic Kwok captured in Girl in Translation. Kwok's writing is still concise, straightforward, and, overall, very easy and pleasant to read. There are times where details border on excessive, but it's easily overlooked when you understand they are mostly necessary. Mambo in Chinatown involves many aspects of Chinese culture that are most likely too foreign for Western audiences to understand without thorough explanations. When it came to the dances, however, I felt the descriptions started to feel repetitious as the story progressed. I don't know much about ballroom dancing, and perhaps you need to have ballroom experience to fully understand the dynamic emotions each dancing style evokes, but Kwok's descriptions of the different styles left my imagination unsatisfied. In short, there was a lot of "telling" and not enough "showing." The main character, Charlie Wong, is a twenty-two-year-old ABC (American-born Chinese) currently working as a dishwasher while still holding onto her dreams for a different and better life. Though complex and caring, I felt ambivalent towards Charlie. In the beginning, I really sympathized with her and her situation, but her transformation from "plain Jane" to a beautiful woman with a number of men vying for her attentions felt somewhat awkward to me. As for the supporting characters, they were all fairly interesting and enjoyable. Charlie's two best friends, Mo Li and Zan, complemented her well. Kwok did a great job giving the two women their own independent goals and storylines rather than functioning as near useless background players to the main character. The story itself felt fresh and passionate. It's obvious Kwok has a lot of interest in and love for ballroom dancing. When I browsed her personal website, sure enough, I learned about her experience as a professional ballroom dancer. While reading, I was invested in Charlie's progression and success as a professional ballroom dancer/instructor but less so with some of the other subplots. I had trouble fully accepting the 'forbidden love' storyline for reasons I will not disclose lest it spoil a part of the story for interested readers, and the father's character shift was unbelievably sudden. Despite an appropriate and fitting conclusion for Charlie's story, everything seemed to wrap up too conveniently at the end. Final Verdict: Although I feel this second novel is a step-down from her debut novel, Kwok's Mambo in Chinatown definitely deserves an attentive read. It's filled with rich knowledge of Chinese culture in an American setting and brings some much needed diversity to the fiction scene. Jean Kwok is an author worth watching!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hallie

    Wonderful story of a first-generation ABC, with a bit of a Cinderella twist. It was beyond painful reading about poor Charlie's struggles when she'd been in school, as she didn't get help for her dyslexia because her father was too embarrassed to go into the school to talk to her teachers or counselors. The grinding poverty and fear of even going near Western doctors to get help for her little sister were well depicted for the most part. (It was also a nice counterpart to S. J. Rozan's A Bitter Wonderful story of a first-generation ABC, with a bit of a Cinderella twist. It was beyond painful reading about poor Charlie's struggles when she'd been in school, as she didn't get help for her dyslexia because her father was too embarrassed to go into the school to talk to her teachers or counselors. The grinding poverty and fear of even going near Western doctors to get help for her little sister were well depicted for the most part. (It was also a nice counterpart to S. J. Rozan's A Bitter Feast, as Charlie's father was a noodle-maker in a Chinatown restaurant, and Lydia's father had also been a cook in Chinatown.) I was very afraid of what might turn out to be wrong with Charlie's sister, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. (view spoiler)[ I really, really didn't want it to be her uncle who was sexually abusing her, as it was pretty obvious it was *someone* and she was so very reluctant to go to the uncle's office. (hide spoiler)] The romance was fine, for the most part (though they were beyond stupid to do *anything* in the hotel pool at the dance competition!), but the best thing for me was the way Charlie finally managed to come into her own and choose her own life while being able to help her father step up to take care of her sister, in ways he'd failed Charlie.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I requested and received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review, which I am very happy to provide. This is such a wonderful book, with a protagonist that will steal your heart with her hard work, devotion and unfailing ability to strive towards her own, and her younger sister's, opportunities wherever she finds them. Our heroine, Charlie, lives in Chinatown, caught between her father' s old world sensibilities, his fears of Communist bureaucracy laid upon American "paperwork" I requested and received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review, which I am very happy to provide. This is such a wonderful book, with a protagonist that will steal your heart with her hard work, devotion and unfailing ability to strive towards her own, and her younger sister's, opportunities wherever she finds them. Our heroine, Charlie, lives in Chinatown, caught between her father' s old world sensibilities, his fears of Communist bureaucracy laid upon American "paperwork" that he does not understand, and her own desire to fully enter into the larger American culture in which she has been born and currently lives. Add into this that her mother died when she was quite young, her father has raised her while still grieving, and she has been mostly raising her much younger sister. Chinatown is a community where everyone knows your business and is certain they can run your affairs much better than you. The book is delightful as Charlie begins to find her true self in her mother's former profession. The book is a coming of age story told in a charming and joyful manner. It is a delight to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    serena

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway! I loved this book. Loved it. This is personal more than anything, but being an ABC myself (American-born Chinese) I was able to connect with Charlie. The pressures she goes to to please her father and to fulfill her own dreams are just so...phew. I loved the whole plot of this novel: brilliant, original, and at the same time exposing issues that many are unaware of. It's already hard enough to please strict parents-- but for that parent to be hell-bent I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway! I loved this book. Loved it. This is personal more than anything, but being an ABC myself (American-born Chinese) I was able to connect with Charlie. The pressures she goes to to please her father and to fulfill her own dreams are just so...phew. I loved the whole plot of this novel: brilliant, original, and at the same time exposing issues that many are unaware of. It's already hard enough to please strict parents-- but for that parent to be hell-bent on something you don't agree on? That's the worst. Jean Kwok's writing is wonderful! The way she describes Charlie's struggles isn't bland and repetitive. Instead, she makes it passionate and she describes Charlie in such a way that it allows us, as the readers, to sympathize with her. And the dance scenes. My lord. Beautifully descriptive and magical. It's like I knew exactly how Charlie was moving; like I could just picture her graceful body doing twirls and whatnot on a stage in front of a grand audience. The love triangle (I guess you could say) that Kwok added in was a great twist to her plot. I didn't originally think that there would be romance in a novel like this, but it fits in nicely. I think the romance also assisted in Charlie's slow progression into a more mature, independent woman. She comes to realize the difference between love and want, respect and forever, and it's great. Her slow but steady transition really shows that dancing is her dream and she will fight for what she wants; it allows her to slowly make important decisions for herself instead of worrying about what her father might say, and overall it helped blossom her into a successful, beautiful and most of all happy woman. I love it. Jean Kwok, you're wonderful. And a big thank you to Penguin Books for this generous giveaway, too. You guys are all fab.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    In her debut novel, GIRL IN TRANSLATION, Jean Kwok introduced the world to Kimberly Chang, a young immigrant from Hong Kong who settled in New York with her widowed mother. Kwok builds on the immigrant experience in her new book, MAMBO IN CHINATOWN. Charlie and Lisa are sisters eleven years apart, but as close as any sisters can be. Their mother passed away years ago and they live with their noodle-maker father. Pa is traditional and rarely leaves the confines of Chinatown. The same could be said In her debut novel, GIRL IN TRANSLATION, Jean Kwok introduced the world to Kimberly Chang, a young immigrant from Hong Kong who settled in New York with her widowed mother. Kwok builds on the immigrant experience in her new book, MAMBO IN CHINATOWN. Charlie and Lisa are sisters eleven years apart, but as close as any sisters can be. Their mother passed away years ago and they live with their noodle-maker father. Pa is traditional and rarely leaves the confines of Chinatown. The same could be said for Charlie, the older daughter, until she leaves her dishwashing job at the noodle shop and finds work as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio far from Chinatown. Charlie is afraid to tell her father the truth about her job, especially when she starts teaching ballroom dance at the studio. Around this time, Lisa comes down with a mysterious ailment that baffles Charlie and Pa. Although Charlie has western medicine contacts through her dance studio, Pa insists on keeping Lisa's treatment in the realms of Chinese medicine. Pa's brother works in Chinese medicine and is a sought-after practitioner in Chinatown. This book is different from GIRL IN TRANSLATION in that it addresses adult issues in an immigrant community like Chinatown. Work, marriage, and big decisions like medical treatment are all central to this story. I enjoyed learning about the world of ballroom dancing. I knew a little about Chinese medicine before I read this book, but learned much more by the time I finished. And I loved the characters of Charlie, Lisa, Pa, and the other personalities in Chinatown, as well as those in the dance studio. Sophomore novels often don't live up to the expectations set by debut novels, but that is never an issue with MAMBO IN CHINATOWN. I loved this book just as much as Jean Kwok's first, if not more!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    This is a quick, easy read - perfect for times when you just don't feel like reading anything too taxing. Charlie and her sister, Lisa, are the American-born daughters of Chinese immigrants. They live in the insular world of Chinatown in NYC, trying to make their way with their widowed father. Charlie is in her 20's and stuck in a dishwashing job, going nowhere fast. She tries to help her father raise Lisa, who is 11, while trying to find her way out of Chinatown. She lands a job in a dance stud This is a quick, easy read - perfect for times when you just don't feel like reading anything too taxing. Charlie and her sister, Lisa, are the American-born daughters of Chinese immigrants. They live in the insular world of Chinatown in NYC, trying to make their way with their widowed father. Charlie is in her 20's and stuck in a dishwashing job, going nowhere fast. She tries to help her father raise Lisa, who is 11, while trying to find her way out of Chinatown. She lands a job in a dance studio and her world changes. From there, the story gets pretty predictable and ends the way you expect this type of story to end, but it is an enjoyable read. The only bothersome detail (to me at least) is that Charlie's father does not speak much English and Charlie doesn't speak a lot of Chinese, yet they manage to have some deep conversations. I can't help but wonder how they communicate. I also find it hard to believe that she speaks as little Chinese as she does growing up with immigrant parents who don't speak a lot of English. That didn't ring true for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joy Sorensen

    As in her first novel, Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok shares her knowledge of Chinese culture and brings it to life. She weaves another intriguing tale of daughters and their struggle to maintain traditions while trying to find their place in the western world. Charlie takes us deep into the world of ballroom dancing, discovering a talent that connects her to her mother in a way that she never felt as a clumsy, underappreciated dish washer. Her love and concern for her sister play a main part in As in her first novel, Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok shares her knowledge of Chinese culture and brings it to life. She weaves another intriguing tale of daughters and their struggle to maintain traditions while trying to find their place in the western world. Charlie takes us deep into the world of ballroom dancing, discovering a talent that connects her to her mother in a way that she never felt as a clumsy, underappreciated dish washer. Her love and concern for her sister play a main part in this web of relationships with all the ups and downs of siblings who are so different and yet the same. Kwok actually worked as a professional ballroom dancer. Her writing introduces us to the beauty and complexity that accompany this glamorous life, all the while allowing the reader to become a part of Charlie's journey to love through dance, family, and age old customs. I highly recommend reading this book. Kwok has become one of my favorite authors of Chinese culture. I rank her right along side Amy Tan and Lisa See.

  20. 5 out of 5

    April

    I am always a little tiny bit hesitant when it comes to reading GROWN UP books, maybe because most of my reading time is spent whipping my way through young adult and middle grade books. Yet, when Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok came across my threshold, I could not ignore it. I could not hesitate. You see, one of the first few review books that I ever received was Kwok’s Girl In Translation and spoiler alert: I loved it. Now, its been awhile since Girl In Translation was published, about four y I am always a little tiny bit hesitant when it comes to reading GROWN UP books, maybe because most of my reading time is spent whipping my way through young adult and middle grade books. Yet, when Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok came across my threshold, I could not ignore it. I could not hesitate. You see, one of the first few review books that I ever received was Kwok’s Girl In Translation and spoiler alert: I loved it. Now, its been awhile since Girl In Translation was published, about four years actually. Friends, I am happy to say that Kwok has still got it and that while Mambo In Chinatown is certainly lighter than Girl In Translation, I think that it actually surpasses Girl in how much I enjoyed reading it, and that’s really saying something given how much I loved Kwok’s debut. Read the rest of my review here Note: Review and link go live June 10, 2014

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    What an excellent book about growing up between cultures. Charlie navigates the space between what she desires -- a career and future in dance and pursuing the freedoms she has as an American born Chinese -- and what her cultural heritage and traditions say she should/should want to do. The modern vs. traditional thread pulls through every aspect of this book and it's done with reverence toward both. This is a book about dance and passion, about finding yourself and cultivating relationships wit What an excellent book about growing up between cultures. Charlie navigates the space between what she desires -- a career and future in dance and pursuing the freedoms she has as an American born Chinese -- and what her cultural heritage and traditions say she should/should want to do. The modern vs. traditional thread pulls through every aspect of this book and it's done with reverence toward both. This is a book about dance and passion, about finding yourself and cultivating relationships with others. What I love most, maybe, is that this is about the lives of people who aren't told in every story or on every television show. This isn't sexy, smart, intelligent New York. This is a labor class story and it's not a rags to riches one. Definitely has teen appeal, though Charlie's just beyond her teen years and her sister is not quite a teen yet. Longer review to come.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca McNutt

    I usually avoid the romance genre, but this book has a lot more than just romance. It's the story of a woman who grew up in Chinatown and is now trying to use her resourceful life skills to save her sister from a sudden illness, at the same time trying to hide her secret career from her father.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hayley Chwazik-Gee

    I picked up this novel because I was looking for a read that was fun, lighthearted, and engaging. It started off as all three but I eventually grew weary of the predictable and cliché storylines: forbidden romance, meek and invisible girl turned unstoppable star, stubborn and traditional patriarch afraid to change his ways, familial secrets that burden etc. A bit disappointing for these reasons.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Mambo in Chinatown is a charming Cinderella-like story about an American born Chinese who is lucky enough to find her way out of the confines of Chinatown and the old-world traditions imposed upon her by her father and others in the community. Charlie Wong is 22 years old and is a dishwasher in Chinatown. She has tried other jobs like receptionist, but always gets fired because she can’t handle the tasks. She never excelled academically and sees herself as inept all around. Charlie’s younger 11-y Mambo in Chinatown is a charming Cinderella-like story about an American born Chinese who is lucky enough to find her way out of the confines of Chinatown and the old-world traditions imposed upon her by her father and others in the community. Charlie Wong is 22 years old and is a dishwasher in Chinatown. She has tried other jobs like receptionist, but always gets fired because she can’t handle the tasks. She never excelled academically and sees herself as inept all around. Charlie’s younger 11-year-old sister Lisa is just the opposite and does well both academically and socially. Their mother, a former ballerina in Beijing is dead, and their father is a noodle maker in Chinatown. The family struggles to stay afloat. Miraculously, Charlie gets a receptionist job in a dance studio and though she is incompetent as a receptionist, the owner of the studio sees her dormant talent as a dancer and with a crash course she is able to teach a beginner’s class at the studio. She continues her dance instructions, becomes a teacher at the studio, enters a dance contest and falls in love. In the meantime, her sister Lisa suffers from an illness that has the whole family in turmoil. Eastern medicine versus Western medicine, old world ways versus new world, and Charlie’s transformation all play a part in this charming story. The plot is predictable, although Kwok’s writing style kept me engaged—it’s simple and affectionate. Her descriptions of dance routines were fascinating, and it was obvious that she herself was a dancer. Her descriptions of the life of a professional ballroom dancer were very real and earthy—not the glamorous life people sometimes imagine. In the end, she tied things up just a little too quickly, but it was still a refreshing read and offered some thoughts about how we perceive people and how we often misjudge those we meet daily—the waitress, the clerk, the dishwasher, etc. From what I have read about the author, much of what she wrote about was inspired by her own life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    MelissaMarie_gg

    TRIGGER WARNING: This novel briefly touches upon the themes of sexual assault . This book was well written you could really feel and see everything the author described I debated giving it 3 stars but decided on the 4 because of that. The genre its listed under is literary fiction I went in blind and was hoping for historical fiction its much more of a contemporary with a slight romance to it. Even though it was well written a chunk of the middle of the story was ....I want to say repetitive but TRIGGER WARNING: This novel briefly touches upon the themes of sexual assault . This book was well written you could really feel and see everything the author described I debated giving it 3 stars but decided on the 4 because of that. The genre its listed under is literary fiction I went in blind and was hoping for historical fiction its much more of a contemporary with a slight romance to it. Even though it was well written a chunk of the middle of the story was ....I want to say repetitive but more like nothing was really happening. So for me it was slightly boring as to why I wanted to rate it 3 but honestly if you like this kind of story you will enjoy it .It's very much an ugly duckling comes into their own type of story. I also do feel the ending was rushed you basically find out what's up the last few pages of the book and it felt unfisnished I would have enjoyed learning what happened to the biggest jerk of the story (I wont say his name to prevent spoilers) but honestly he just got yelled at, I wanted more closure with that part. If I could rate in between I would 3.5

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I loved Charlie and her struggles to strike a balance between finding herself and her dreams and being there for her widowed father and younger sister. Many of the issues presented are relatable, whether you're from a family of immigrants or not. I found myself easily immersed in Charlie's world. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of ballroom dancing and Tai Chi. I did feel that I knew quite early on what was going on with Charlie's sister, Lisa, and I wonder if it lent a darkness to the s I loved Charlie and her struggles to strike a balance between finding herself and her dreams and being there for her widowed father and younger sister. Many of the issues presented are relatable, whether you're from a family of immigrants or not. I found myself easily immersed in Charlie's world. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of ballroom dancing and Tai Chi. I did feel that I knew quite early on what was going on with Charlie's sister, Lisa, and I wonder if it lent a darkness to the story that it didn't need. Not that a story such as Lisa's shouldn't be told or doesn't happen but it almost felt like Charlie wouldn't have felt any guilt or loyalty to her family without Lisa's situation, and I think she actually would. I just wonder if it really had a place in Charlie's story. I don't like feeling like such a situation is added just for drama. Check out my full review. (Link will be live February 12, 2017).

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    4.5 Stars One of my special loves is dancing. It’s a love I got from my mother, just like Charlie did. Though, in the case of my family, it’s more about watching dancing than actually doing it, which I’m simply hopeless at. But, seriously, I don’t care how terrible a movie is: if it’s about dancing, I will watch it and probably like it a good deal more than I should. I hoped Mambo in Chinatown would be the book equivalent of movies like Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance?, and oh how right I wa 4.5 Stars One of my special loves is dancing. It’s a love I got from my mother, just like Charlie did. Though, in the case of my family, it’s more about watching dancing than actually doing it, which I’m simply hopeless at. But, seriously, I don’t care how terrible a movie is: if it’s about dancing, I will watch it and probably like it a good deal more than I should. I hoped Mambo in Chinatown would be the book equivalent of movies like Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance?, and oh how right I was. Mambo in Chinatown is an adorable dancing movie about going for your dreams, as well as a touching story of family and culture. Read the full review at A Reader of Fictions.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Terrific story! I loved reading about ballroom dancing. I knew when the bed wetting started there was something going on in the office where Lisa was working. I am happy it wasn't the uncle. My only question is what happened at the dance studio? Did Charlie continue teaching because Ryan quit taking lessons? And I was so happy Pa came around at the end. I guess the issues with Lisa slapped some sense into him! Also I liked the irony of the situation with Lisa. It wasn't an American that harmed h Terrific story! I loved reading about ballroom dancing. I knew when the bed wetting started there was something going on in the office where Lisa was working. I am happy it wasn't the uncle. My only question is what happened at the dance studio? Did Charlie continue teaching because Ryan quit taking lessons? And I was so happy Pa came around at the end. I guess the issues with Lisa slapped some sense into him! Also I liked the irony of the situation with Lisa. It wasn't an American that harmed his daughter but a Chinese man. So it wasn't their Western lifestyle that needed correction. I wonder if this one will get made into a movie? I sure would like to watch all of the dancing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This was an enjoyable read. I tend to like stories about Asian culture. I've read this author before and I enjoyed that one as well. This book had a slow methodical pace. That wasn't a bad thing here. I love the family dynamics and the cultural ties that seemed to wrap around the different generations (some generations are wrapped a little tighter). Every member, regardless of age, are trapped in tradition and in what is acceptable. The characters were well drawn and I felt I could relate to the This was an enjoyable read. I tend to like stories about Asian culture. I've read this author before and I enjoyed that one as well. This book had a slow methodical pace. That wasn't a bad thing here. I love the family dynamics and the cultural ties that seemed to wrap around the different generations (some generations are wrapped a little tighter). Every member, regardless of age, are trapped in tradition and in what is acceptable. The characters were well drawn and I felt I could relate to them, which is one of the things this author does well. There were a couple things that stood out like the proverbial elephant in the room. It was predictable on both story lines. This made the ending a little anti-climatic. Everything was wrapped up in a bright red bow.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Reynolds

    Great new spinning of the "ugly duckling" becoming a swan. I loved this book. It gave me such a new understanding for struggling to live between two cultures: western and eastern. Charlie is a 22 year old Chinese American girl who has never shone at anything - and suddenly gets her chance at thriving in the ballroom dance room. It truly is a modern-day fairytale. I won't say too much more because others have given the bare bones of the storyline in their reviews. If you want to learn more, read Great new spinning of the "ugly duckling" becoming a swan. I loved this book. It gave me such a new understanding for struggling to live between two cultures: western and eastern. Charlie is a 22 year old Chinese American girl who has never shone at anything - and suddenly gets her chance at thriving in the ballroom dance room. It truly is a modern-day fairytale. I won't say too much more because others have given the bare bones of the storyline in their reviews. If you want to learn more, read the book. You'll be glad you did.

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