by KB Meniado
One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.
Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.
As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about. Available in bookstores / Read reviews: Goodreads
WHAT I LIKED
There’s something about middle grade books I keep coming back to even as an adult, and if it isn’t the fun adventures and almost-too-personal familiarity, it’s the good reminders that can last a lifetime (or at least, the current span of mine). I liked how this #ownvoices novel, and Yumi Chung as the 11-year-old main character in particular, has prompted one of the best lessons in life, and that’s giving value to a dream or life goal, withstanding the hurdles.
But doing that has its price, of course, and this story was not shy about showing what—or who—is at risk when you go after something without careful thought and guidance, especially when you are a kid or someone inexperienced. In Yumi’s pursuit of her stand-up comedian dream, I thought it was justified how she stumbled upon consequences (although not enough, haha, and I’ll talk more about this later on) because of that very desire. Her taking another girl’s identity to attend comedy camp and lying to practically everyone were absolutely not praiseworthy, but it was somehow a realistic reaction or effect to her situation, given circumstances of pressure, financial limitations, and inability to communicate well (due to family dynamics). This is why having her personal hero, YouTube star Jasmine Jasper, and her older sister Yuri, as sporadic her presence was, act as her advisors was of much importance because they provided that much-needed perspective.
Cast-wise, I enjoyed how POC characters filled the story, and how parts of Korean-American culture, specially immigrant families, seemed to shine, such as in the perception of education and tradition. And because this story is about a funny albeit shy girl, I suppose I should say that I did laugh out loud at some of the jokes and dialogues, and I liked how there were inserts of Yumi’s notes and other accompanying illustrations to make the story more of an encompassing experience and her as an even more relatable character, particularly for the MG-ers themselves.
As most of these stories go, the ending is quite heartwarming and redeeming, and I loved how Yumi was able to resolve not only her personal struggles but also her family’s restaurant conundrum.
“Your problem is not your intelligence. Your problem is that you’re hampered by your own indecision.”
(P.S. As a BTS fan, I would like to add that there were a few mentions of the band, and for that, thank you, author. 😂)
These reminders specifically go to the younger readers, or the parents or guardians who are going to read this book with kids: there’s subtle profanity disguised in puns, there’s a need to discuss the weight of the consequences for Yumi’s actions (actual versus ideal; as I thought she was let off more easily than I have had expected), and there’s a necessary conversation to have about the experiences of watching and idolizing online personalities.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim is a reminder to young and young-at-heart readers to stand up for your dreams, and stand up for them on solid ground. ☁️