Hi Jessica! We really appreciate you stopping by MG Book Village to take part in Fast Forward Friday.
Thank you for having me, I’m so glad to be here!
I had the pleasure of reading your debut book, STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG, which comes out on March 17th, 2020, and I truly enjoyed it. Can you tell our readers what it’s about?
Sure! Shy and quiet eleven-year-old Yumi Chung wishes she had the courage to do stand-up comedy like her YouTube idol, Jasmine Jasper, but she can’t even stand up to her academic-minded immigrant parents. When a case of mistaken identity offers Yumi a spot in comedy camp taught by the incredible Jasmine herself, Yumi leaps at the chance. While her parents think she’s at the library studying for the upcoming scholarship exam, she’s actually going to camp at the Haha Club as her alter-ego, Kay Nakamura, who is confident, popular, and pee-your-pants hilarious. Basically everything Yumi wishes she were in real life.
When a new performing arts school with a comedy program opens up, Yumi dares to hope her new life could be permanent and yearns to audition for a spot. But her parents are dead set on her acing her exam and winning a scholarship to the prestigious private school instead. Unable to give up on her double life, Yumi’s lies grow bigger and bigger until she must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing everything and everyone she ever cared about.
I love Yumi, and I think young readers will really be able to relate to her wanting to make her own choices about a future career, rather than pursuing what her parents what her to do. Which character was most challenging for you to write?
Absolutely, as a mother of a middle grade reader myself, I know all too well how common it is for young people to be at odds with their parents around this age. In this season of exploration and self-expression, kids might want to start branching out and pursue new things and sometimes parents aren’t ready for those changes. It’s no different for Yumi and her family.
The character that I spent the most time developing was the mother. I think I rewrote her at least five times. It was so hard because I really wanted to nail it. I needed her to be authentic but also multi-dimensional. Many times, the “Asian mom” character is portrayed in media as strict and unrelenting but I wanted to flesh out her incredibly loving side as well.
In many cultures, including my own, it isn’t quite as common to show affection with hugs and “I love yous” the way we see on TV. Signs of love are more often shown in quieter ways, like preparing favorite foods, providing the best opportunities, and being willing to sacrifice for your kids. These differences can be hard for Yumi and other American-born kids to understand and that disconnect often leads to an assumption that the parent doesn’t understand them or accept them as they are. Through Yumi’s adventures, she realizes that her parents have always been her biggest supporters, even when she didn’t know they were watching.
I love that Jasmine, Yumi’s comedy instructor, teaches her that comedy is most relatable when it comes from a place of truth. What’s one truth you’d like young readers to know about this story or its journey to publication?
Probably the biggest truth I’ve learned in the writing of this book is that there’s no such thing as failure. Really! It’s so counter intuitive but it’s true. So many of us live our lives afraid to take a chance because we don’t want to look stupid or we’d be so embarrassed if things didn’t work out but writing Yumi taught me that life is full of possibilities and if one thing doesn’t work out, we can always try something else!
I really loved that you showed the reader that children of immigrants often have higher expectations placed on them because their parents want them to have security. If Yumi came to you for life advice, what would you tell her?
I’m not sure if children of immigrants have higher expectations, per se, maybe just fewer options are showcased. And yes, the professions we know about are often the “secure” options (doctor, lawyer, engineer etc). When I was younger, I mistakenly assumed that our parents were just materialistic and wanted us to make a ton of money. Or maybe they just wanted bragging rights that their kid got into a fancy school. But now that I’m a mom myself, I see the challenges immigrants and people of color face in the workplace and in society, and I understand where this thinking comes from.
If Yumi came to me for life advice, I’d tell her that it’s a gift that she’s found something she’s so passionate about at such an early age. I’d also encourage her to keep chasing other interests and pursuits, including her studies. I’d tell her to be honest with her parents about what’s on her heart, to keep standing up for what she wants while remembering who she is and where she comes from. Most of all, I’d tell her that she’s doing great and that I’m proud of her and it’s okay to make mistakes.
Are you currently working on another project, and can you let us know where readers can go to find out more about you and your writing?
Yes, I’m working on another contemporary middle grade fiction novel starring a Korean American tween! If you want to keep up with my writing journey you can follow me on Instagram at jesskimwrites or on my website www.jesskimwrites.com I’m also on Twitter and Facebook under the same name.
OK, one last question: are you a comedy fan, and if so, could you share a joke with us before you go?
I’m a huge comedy fan but sadly my jokes are pretty corny. So, brace yourself. Here’s my go-to favorite:
What do you call a man with no nose and no body?
Ha ha! Thanks again for joining us today, and I hope your debut year is filled with lots of laughs and happy moments.
Thank you so much, Kathie and MG Book Village for this chance to chat about STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! I hope you guys like it!
Jessica Kim writes about Asian American girls finding their way in the world. Before she was an author, Jessica studied education at UC Berkeley and spent ten years teaching third, fourth, and fifth grades in public schools. Like Yumi, Jessica lives with her family in Southern California and can’t get enough Hot Cheetos, BTS, stand-up comedy, and Korean barbecue.