Chicago Sun-Times (Favorite Books of 2009):
Sung J. Woo’s debut novel, Everything Asian, is a standout. Full of wit, humor and heart, the book succinctly captures the struggle of an immigrant child trying to fit into American society — and in his own dysfunctional family. —Jae-Ha Kim
she’s too fond of books:
I really liked the structure of Everything Asian; writing a year in the Kims’ life as a novel in stories allows Woo to show many perspectives while focusing on David. Quirky characters and a mix of amusing and thought-provoking situations show many sides of the immigrant experience. The subculture of life in a New Jersey strip mall offers another detour in the quest for assimilation in America.
UPI Asia/Asian Review of Books (September 3, 2009):
While Everything Asian is a story of the immigrant experience in which culture clash plays a strong role, it strays from the typical (adult) view and goes both small and large: small in the sense that protagonist Joon (David) Kim is just twelve and large in that the novel’s second story points towards a bigger picture. Peddlers Town is its own community — shop and restaurant owners coming and going as the Kims work their way towards the American Dream.
Hyphen Magazine (Summer 2009):
Five years after his father left for the United States, Dae Joon Kim (now rechristened David) and his mother and sister are uprooted from Korea to help run their Asian gift shop in a strip mall in New Jersey. Everything Asian, Sung J. Woo’s debut novel, chronicles the year that follows. Narrated mainly by the 12-year old Joon, the novel is interspersed with accounts from the other occupants of the mall — including an audiophile Russian in love with his loudspeakers, a dying Korean woman and an Irishman experimenting with pantyhose. You get some of the usual immigrant concerns here: ESL classes, the Anglicization of names, the smell and taste of foreign food, but where the book shines is in its account of how the family struggles, not against America, but against itself. Ultimately, this is a novel about learning to live together again after separation, about tolerance for each other’s foibles, and yes, about acceptance and forgiveness for lapses. — Nawaaz Ahmed
When I glanced at the cover of Everything Asian, which features a grinning adolescent Asian boy about to devour a huge hamburger, I envisioned a book about twelve-year-old David Kim’s culture clashes as a newly arrived Korean immigrant in the U.S. And I was right. The book is filled with Korean practices juxtaposed against experiences in this country. But it is a book overflowing with so much more than that, too. Sung J. Woo writes not only from David’s perspective, but also from the standpoint of the many characters David knows from the Peddlers Town mall, the microcosm of America where the Kim family’s gift shop is located.
This book is incredibly charming – David is just so sweet, so naive in an adorable way, that you can’t help but feel for him and root for him to adjust quickly and be happy in the United States. All of the characters really endeared themselves to me and snuck into my heart – I couldn’t help but want things to go well for them.
Asian American Literature Fans:
I spent most of yesterday reading Sung J. Woo’s Everything Asian. Reading has always been for me, in the end, a source of entertainment and pleasure and such was the case with Woo’s felicitous first novel.
Christian Science Monitor (April 24, 2009):
Lots of teenage boys say they don’t understand their dads. Dae Joon Kim doesn’t even remember his.
Five years earlier, Harry Kim left his family behind in South Korea to forge a new life for them in America. To Dae Joon (now called David), the main character in Sung J. Woo’s wry, insightful debut novel-in-stories, Everything Asian, he’s just the figure posing next to his mom in the family album.
There’s a certain genius inherent in choosing a strip mall as a 1980s period setting, and Woo makes the most of it, filling the book with the way customers’ and neighboring storeowners’ lives touch – sometimes only glancingly – on the three Kims’ first year in America. At first the non-Kim stories seem only connected by geography, but Woo has cleverly constructed a central narrative that runs like a Venn diagram through the tour of Peddlers Town.
BookDragon (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program):
Woo perfectly captures the disorientation of a young boy caught amidst difficult family dynamics, negotiating a strange new world filled with both loss and discovery.
School Library Journal (May 2009, “Adult Books for High School Students” column):
Adult/High School–David Kim, formerly known as Dae Joon, has just turned 12 years old and moved to New Jersey from Korea. After five years of living with his mother and his older, moody sister, he must reconnect with a father he does not remember and get used to his American life, which consists of going to school and working at his parents’ shop, East Meets West. In a series of interwoven short stories, Woo captures both the difficulty of transitioning from adolescence into adulthood and the additional challenges of making that transition in a new country. The author presents, through the boy’s perspective, a chapter about an American acquaintance who experiments with wearing pantyhose under his clothes. Woo imbues the story, like others in the collection, with David’s overall sense of confusion about this man’s American ways. With a mix of humor and drama, Everything Asian makes a fine addition to recreational reading lists and a good companion to Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese (Roaring Brook/First Second, 2006).–Sarah Krygier, Fairfield Civic Center Library, Fairfield, CA
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review, February 15, 2009):
Cleverly concatenated stories about the experience of Korean immigrants make up Woo’s loosely structured novel.
The story initially concerns a brother and sister, Joon-a and In Sook Kim (aka David and Sue), revisiting Peddlers Town, a “sad-sack of a strip mall” where a quarter of a century before their parents owned an intermittently successful gift store, which has since been torn down to make way for a Home Depot. After this brief opening we’re whisked back into the past, to the time when their father set up shop, trying to become successful before sending for his wife back in Korea. David becomes one of the primary narrators, as he recounts with both humor and pathos his growing up and gradual Americanization. Along the way we meet other shop owners in Peddlers Town, including Mr. Hong, the only other Korean, who owns In the Bag, a luggage store, and Dmitri, owner of HiFi FoFum. Everyone’s trying to make it, of course, not necessarily to strike it rich but to own a small piece of the elusive American Dream. Woo eventually shifts to a more neutral narrative voice, one that advances our understanding of characters who exist on the periphery of David’s world. The Kims decide that to become more authentically American they should speak English, so they enroll in an evening ESL class, where they discover that the usually deferential Mrs. Kim is falling for her American instructor. The bemused tone shifts when an American detective puts out his shingle in Peddlers Town and then follows Mr. Kim, only to discover that on his shopping trips every Monday he’s been cheating on his wife. A novel that both delights and instructs.
Booklist (February 15, 2009):
Newly arrived in the States from Korea in the early 1980s, Dae Joon, 12, does not know his dad and does not want to. Father left five years ago to make a home for his family in New Jersey. Now Dae Joon (“David” in America) and his older sister must adapt to a new world, working after school in Dad’s Asian gift store in the shabby Peddlers Town mall, attending ESL classes with their embarrassing parents, and discovering secrets and betrayal. Told in sharp, immediate vignettes, mostly from the boy’s viewpoint, this debut novel captures the contemporary immigration struggle, but it is also an elemental family drama of fury and tenderness, affecting all the characters. Dae Joon’s mother cannot speak the language and remains angry that her husband left her behind so long. But what about Dae Joon’s loneliness? Woo also shows the ironic satisfactions that come with speaking a second language: the joy of insulting locals to their faces without their understanding. A great addition to the titles listed in Booklist’s “Core Collection: The New Immigration Story” (August 2005). — Hazel Rochman
Publishers Weekly (December 15, 2008):
In this charming tale of family, community and the struggle for understanding, young Korean immigrant David Kim learns to acculturate to a new American life. After five years on their own in Seoul, 12-year-old David, his big sister and mother reunite with his father in Oakbridge, N.J. Now known as Harry, David’s father has a gift shop in a rundown strip mall called Peddlers Town. Though told largely by a grown-up David, some chapters switch to a third-person voice to examine other characters, including members of the Kim family and the other store owners at Peddlers Town (including an American with a cross-dressing son and a down-on-his-luck detective). Woo eschews immigrant clichés to focus on complicated familial relationships and surprising, sympathetic characters; alternating between humor and melancholy, Woo’s text strikes a true chord while drawing readers into its strange, strip-mall world.