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Troublemaker - Review

*I received an e-arc copy for the TBR and Beyond tour via Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All reviews are my own.*

Does that byline say: By John Cho??? Is he writing books now? Why yes, he is! Specifically middle-grade books. Cho gives us a historical fiction novel about the 1992 L.A. Riots from a 12-year old perspective in his debut efforts. I picked up this book solely because it was by John Cho. Since the White Castle series, it has been a long journey, and you know what? I'm proud of him, especially after watching his performance on the now-canceled Netflix series, Cowboy Bebop. It's criminal that ended. Damn Netflix. Anyway, I wanted Cho to win, and I feel like his book, Troublemaker, is the big prize he's been waiting for.

"12-year-old Jordan feels like he can't live up to the example his older sister set, or his parent's expectations. When he returns home from school one day hoping to hide his suspension, Los Angeles has reached a turning point. In the wake of the acquittal of the police officers filmed beating Rodney King, as well as the shooting of a young black teen, Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner, the country is at the precipice of confronting its racist past and present.
As tensions escalate, Jordan's father leaves to check on the family store, spurring Jordan and his friends to embark on a dangerous journey to come to his aide, and come to terms with the racism within and affecting their community."

Originally, Troublemaker was supposed to be a mystery novel. But after watching the verdict and backlash of George Floyd's murder and enduring the community pain of the six Asian women killed at an Atlanta, Georgia spa, writing about injustice and the lack of racial equality sort of came to Cho. Watching the uprising, anger, and fear during the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate protests became a flashback to the L.A. Riots. And while Cho was hesitant to write a children's story featuring guns and violence, he thought, "…it was unfortunately realistic".

What I liked about Troublemaker was the abundance of information that was given. We got a chance to see details through a kid's eye. And while I can tell Cho held on to the more aggressive information about the riots, it was still informative enough to teach kids how history repeats itself. I appreciate the viewpoints the character gave as an Asian American. One of the biggest highlights of this book is the Latasha Harlins case. For those who don't know and are too lazy to Google, Latasha Harlins was a 15-year old black girl shot and killed by a Korean store owner over a bottle of orange juice. Du Soon Ja, the shop owner, thought Harlins was stealing and proceeded to shoot her in the back of the head. As I mentioned in a previous review, I was 2-years old when the Riots happened, so I've heard whispers of this story, but never in full detail. When you hear the term "L.A. Riots", you think only of Rodney King, but a little girl also had power in those riots because after the verdict of a light sentence was passed, black people got angry and lit a match.

I say all this to say that the main character considered everyone's feelings in this story. There was no hesitation as to who was right and wrong; the main character was fully aware of the injustice. But when it comes down to it, aren't we all just people trying to survive and protect the ones we love the most?

On a lighter note, I love the trend of parents having a sit down with their kids and having a mature conversation about situations. I would assume most people grew up on the religion of "not talking back," I'm the parent, and you're the child," and "Because I said so." We all suffered from it. There is a scene where the main character and his father have a heart-to-heart. I think it's essential to showcase these conversations because it promotes healthy communication between people.

Overall I rated this book 5-stars. This is a tremendous middle-grade debut that should be on shelves everywhere. The topics weren't too heavy, and the story flowed quickly. You will become enthralled by the main character's mission to get to his father during the riots and while navigating social justice, Korean American identity, and the horrors of the L.A. Riots.

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