Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Middle-Grade Review: Parachute Kids

One of my choices for Middle-Grade March and Fierce Women Reads was Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang. I'd heard a lot about this middle-grade graphic novel, and it lived up to my expectations. The novel was informative, engrossing, and entertaining.

Ten-year-old Feng-Li and her family are traveling from Taiwan to California for a family vacation in 1981. She's very excited and has been poring over guidebooks, picking out all the sites she wants to see. Her parents, older brother and sister, and she do have a nice week-long vacation. But then their parents break the news: the kids will be staying in America to get away from the volatile situation at home and to get a better education. Dad is returning home to go back to work, so he can support the family, and Mom plans to stay with the kids, in the house they bought. The kids all choose American first names because their Taiwanese names are too difficult for Americans to pronounce. After a month, though, mom has to return to Taiwan, too, when the U.S. won't extend her visa. There are good family friends from Taiwan who live in the same town with their daughter, Olivia, having immigrated a few years earlier. For the most part, though, sixteen-year-old Jessie, fourteen-year-old Jason, and Feng-Li with her new name, Ann, are on their own. They all have major challenges. Jessie knows English the best of the three, but she's the closest to college age and must be ready to take the SAT in less than a year. Jason has a secret and got in a lot of trouble in Taiwan; the only kids who talk to him at school are a group of Chinese boys (other parachute kids) who probably aren't the best influence. And poor Ann jumps into fifth grade without knowing a single word of English. She misses her friends and her old school, where she was a good student. At the same time, they have to manage a household, take care of the house, and get along with each other! They each make some mistakes and bad choices along the way, and Ann feels like it's up to her to keep her family together.

There is so much depth and complexity in this graphic novel! The issues these three kids are dealing with are huge, including some very adult issues. Their parents didn't abandon them, and both are trying to get new visas to come back, but the process takes a long time. I had never heard the term "parachute kids" before, but apparently, it's a fairly common experience (and one that has grown exponentially in the last decade) for Chinese parents to send their kids to the U.S. for a better education. Often, they have a host family to stay with or live in dormitories at private schools, but sometimes kids like the Lins must fend for themselves. I found news articles on the phenomenon in a Palo Alto high school newspaper and the New York Times. The novel provided an inside view to what it is like for these kids, living without their parents and trying to assimilate into American life. And it showed the language barrier by using yellow dialogue bubbles for Taiwanese and white for English. The author explains in a note at the end that she and her siblings were parachute kids in 1979, and her deep understanding of the challenges is evident. Despite the often harrowing subject matter, the novel is also entertaining, with a great sense of humor, and illustrates the love the siblings have for each other (behind the typical bickering!). I enjoyed reading it very much, and I feel like I better understand how difficult it is for kids like these.

(Note: the novel is written from Feng-Li's perspective, which is why it's middle-grade, but the teens' struggles are addressed as well, so it might appeal to older readers, too.) 

283 pages, Graphix (imprint of Scholastic)

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:


Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Alphabet Soup Challenge - P

Diversity Challenge & mini-challenge for March: #ownvoices

Literary Escapes Challenge - California


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. This sample is a note from the beginning, explaining about the Taiwanese language and accents in the audio.


Or get this audiobook from and support local bookstores (audio sample here, too). This sample is from the main part of the book, so it shows the different voices and accents, along with sound effects. I wouldn't normally recommend an audio of a graphic novel, but this one might be an exception to better understand the language barrier.


Print and e-book from Amazon.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



  1. I love it when a graphic novel, and particularly one aimed at younger students, deals with deep issues in an effective way. I can't imagine being put into a foreign country at that young age and figuring it all out. I am sure it happens much more than we imagine.

    1. Yes, so do I! And, no, I can't imagine it, either.