Book Review Unit 8: Paper Daughter



Rodriguez, S. (2013). [Cover art from Paper Daughter]. Copyright 2013 by Sharismar Rodriguez.  Reprinted with permission.

Book Summary: Still reeling from the sudden death of her beloved father, Maggie Chen begins a summer internship at the Seattle Herald, her first step towards becoming the investigative reporter of her dreams. When an investigation into building permit corruption links a murder to her father’s hit-and-run accident in Chinatown, Maggie is drawn to her own investigation of a father who may not be who he said.  Interspersed with Maggie’s present-day conflict with a brash and insensitive fellow intern and efforts to find a feeling of family with her mother, we see the story of Chinese immigrants Fai-yi and Sucheng, for whom America does not turn out to be the land of gold it promised to be.  The mystery arises as Maggie tries to pick up her father’s search for his own origins and the reader tries to beat her to figure out how Fai-yi and his vindictive sister fit into that past.


APA Reference of Book: Ingold, J. (2010). Paper daughter. New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Impressions: Ingold sensitively treats the racist microaggressions Maggie faces in her world such as her fellow intern jumping to the conclusion she’s “smart” and classmates assuming she is familiar with the food and language of other Asian cultures. While racial discrimination is not the primary focus of this book, in Maggie the reader experiences a person who has authentic experiences which develop from a history of benign stereotyping and overt discrimination.  She is more than just a character who happens to be a person of color experiencing the world as an Anglo might. Because of the flashbacks to San Francisco of the 1930s, this book comes across as more historical fiction than mystery, but the deviation from “who dunnit” style mysteries is refreshing nonetheless.  At the heart of the mystery lies Sucheng, a cruel and self-centered scold with a motivation the reader can understand but not necessarily sympathize with.  Even if the reader understands why she ended up like this, Sucheng’s utter lack of redeeming characteristics makes her too analogous to the flat villains typical of children’s mysteries. Fai-yi is more likeable as he provides a window into understanding his sister’s isolation and descent both through his acknowledgement of her lost opportunities resulting from her disfiguring illness and culturally-imposed gender limitations which prevent her from meet customers and leave the laundry like he does as well as his ignorance in supposing she must be fulfilled once she has a child to babysit. Fai-yi, Maggie, Maggie’s deceased father and her beleaguered mother are all fully realized people who the reader roots for, despite knowing things will not necessarily turn out well.  The resolution of the dual mysteries—both the city corruption case and the importance of Fai-yi culminate in a manner that is satisfying without being too tidy.

Professional Review:

The summer before her senior year, Maggie Chen begins her internship at a Seattle newspaper only weeks following the shocking death of her beloved reporter father. While sorting through his papers, she discovers that his heritage is not what she and her mother had always believed. At the Herald, Maggie finds herself unraveling a story involving murder and a local government scandal. However, she is taken off the story when leads suggest a connection to her father’s death. Frantically, Maggie searches for clues to her father’s past in order to clear his name. Raising questions about the nature of truth, Maggie struggles to understand the parent she thought she knew, and her own cultural heritage. Maggie’s story is broken up by the 1930s voyage of Li Fai-yi, a Chinese teen who immigrates to America under a false identity to avoid the Chinese Exclusion Act. Ingold’s picture of Seattle’s early-20th-century Chinatown is haunting and convincing, offering a snapshot of the hardships of early American Chinese. Maggie is quiet and unassuming, but determined and intelligent. Still somber over her father’s sudden death, she is fiercely proud of his accomplishments. This is a milder exploration of cultural identity than some other teen offerings, and is well documented. Ingold offers both a modern and historical look at the Chinese-American experience, but little else. Undeveloped side characters and overly successful genealogy research drag it down a bit.

Roth, R. (2010). Paper Daughter. School Library Journal 56(4), 160.

Library Uses:  This would make a great classroom read during homeroom for a librarian’s social and emotional learning class.  I would have each student pick a character and write a PostSecret postcard from that character’s point of view using magazines and historical photos for illustrations. We would discuss the difference between what people assumed about those characters (and us) and how they felt about who they were inside.


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