Patti Yoon, aged seventeen and up to her head in SAT study books, AP Calculus practice tests and, of course, those soul searching college essays, is tired of being a PKD (Perfect Korean Daughter). She is tired of feeling like the only thing that her Korean parents care about is what grades she gets in her seven AP courses and whether or not she achieves a 2300 on her SATs. She is tired of going to Korean Church Group every Sunday just so all her Korean friends can spend two hours competing against each other and trying to act sad when Patti announces she has been demoted from concertmaster to assistant concertmaster.
The one thing that Patti does love is her music – playing the violin allows her to escape into a world of sound and emotion disconnected from her stressful and busy life. But to her parents even music is only another “hook” to get Patti into an Ivy League college, a hobby that she will stop once she has gotten into the school of her (or is it their?) dreams. Patti has always thought about violin in the same way – until she meets “Cute Trumpet Guy”, the irresistible, sensitive and caring Ben Wheeler who never makes her feel like she has to prove herself by getting a 2300 on her SAT – who accepts her for exactly who she is and laughs at all her stupid jokes. Ben helps her realize that violin is more than her hobby, it is her passion. Maybe she doesn’t want to go to HARVARDYALEPRINCETON after all… is it mere coincidence that the Juilliard application requires her to play the exact same Mendelssohn piece that she will be performing at All-States?
This book is ultimately about the journey a girl takes towards better defining herself as she comes to terms with the strange mix of cultures swirling through her life – Korean, typical high school, the musical scene and the pressures to prove herself as a first generation child in the United States. As Patti readies herself to leave home and begin her own life in college, she learns to appreciate and balance her conflicting cultures by standing up for herself instead of bending to her parents’ pressures and high school stereotypes, by finally doing what makes her happy instead of trying to please anyone else. In the end Patti teaches both her parents and the reader that “success” is not necessarily synonymous to “happiness” and that you don’t have to be number one to be good enough.
Peppered with funny lists of everything from the “World’s Best Violin Players” to “10 Ways to Make Your Korean Parents Happy”, Paula Yoo’s novel is a quick, amusing and must read for any senior girl applying to college (or any teen girl in general). The narrating voice is pleasingly strong, perfectly quirky (with the occasional and unfortunate tendency to slip into cheesy clichés) and believably nerdy. (Yoo manages to smoothly add in random bits of fascinating facts into Patti’s narration). A satisfying mixture of familiar themes such as self discovery, risk taking and first love, Yoo’s novel does an especially good job of examining the pressures on the youth of first generation immigrants in America. Because Patti’s parents sacrificed their lives in Korea for her benefit they are even more anxious that she is the best and most accomplished – she is their proof that they made the right decision. In many ways it is all riding on first generation children to prove that America really is a land of opportunities. The narration is at times so real that it often causes the reader to wonder – is it mere coincidence that Paula Yoo’s main character is named Patti Yoon?
“Good Enough” by Paula Yoo. Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.