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Breakaway - Paul Yee

Breakaway is a story that's been told many times. It's about the struggle that often happens for the children of immigrants who are ostracized for being too foreign to be part of the land of their birth (in this case, Canada) and still unfamiliar with the land of their ancestors to truly claim the other place as their home.

Kwok-ken Wong is the protagonist, a young man is further isolated in his struggles because his family's demands for keeping up the farm keep him from associating in the possible refuge of Vancouver's Chinatown, so all he is left outside of his chores are his studies and soccer. Soccer is his true refuge, where he finds a sense of team spirit and meritocracy are enough to overlook how blindingly racist the rest of his school is to him.

This novel has all the elements of a book that seeks to address the topics of racism and a loss of self-identity: the brusque cultural misunderstandings between parents and children, the clear cut moments of being profoundly recognized as other, the triumph in finding some common ground with peers, all of this could be packaged into the script of an underdog sport story and do a perfectly fine job of it. But Breakaway never manages to break free of the conventions enough to be its own story. It's fairly well told but sparse, lacking moments of humanity that make this genre shine. Kwok's journey from a young man ashamed of his situation into someone who better understands his situationa nd himself isn't as rich and self-aware a transition as it is more something delivered because the book was coming to a close.

I picked it up because I love soccer stories and found it playing a minor part, but that might be a draw. Those who really love reading historical fiction that focuses on the Asian-American/Asian-Canadian experiences will not find anything new but not be disappointed.