Review: Troublemaker by John Cho

Aimed at middle grade readers, John Cho’s TROUBLEMAKER takes place on the first day of the protests following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. The main character, Jordan Park, is a first-generation Korean-American. In one of the first scenes in the book, he reminds readers that a Korean store owner had recently shot and killed LaTasha Harlins, a young Black teenaged girl who had been accused of shoplifting. Told through the eyes and voice of 12-year-old Jordan, these two tragic injustices are questioned and held up with the authentic and fresh spotlight of youth. In addition, Jordan’s personal dramas include being suspended for cheating, a fraught relationship with his parents, and feeling disconnected from friends and purpose. Together, the storylines create righteous and relatable tension that elevates the genre in a way that makes sense to readers who weren’t even born when the events occurred.

In typical middle grade story form, Jordan sends himself off on an adult-level adventure and has dangerous, challenging, and rewarding moments along the way. Cho (and co-author Sarah Suk) manage to weave everyday 12-year-old concerns (grades, comparisons to siblings, growing apart from friends) into an evening of potential and very real violence. Jordan’s desire to “be useful” and protect his father push him to make a dangerous decision – to try to transport his father’s firearm to the family store – that influences the rest of the evening.

The supporting characters all have a purpose in TROUBLEMAKER as well. A helpful Latinx gardener, a kind Black neighbor, a “bad influence” friend, and all of Jordan’s family members serve as examples of how stereotypes are broken and how individual kindness and treating kids as kids no matter the circumstances helps lift everyone up. Jordan and his friend Mike are not “innocents” as they roam Los Angeles on the first day of the Rodney King verdict protests, but they are most definitely kids. And what TROUBLEMAKER makes clear is that they and all young people deserve the second chances so many of us received. Jordan’s growth, and the growth of most characters in this novel, shows how those second chances allow for a community feeling that is authentic and lasting.

Highly recommended.

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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1 Response to Review: Troublemaker by John Cho

  1. Megan Rose says:

    This one sounds so interesting! Great review!

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