By Maya Chin
By Laurence Yep
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Dragon Road is a book about Chinese-Americans in 1939. It is recommended for readers grades fifth through ninth, but I believe that anyone who wants to learn about the racism and hardships the Chinese in America endure should read this book. Anybody who loves a good book about teamwork and proving one’s self should read Dragon Road.
The main character in Dragon Road is Calvin Chin, an ambitious basketball player who grows up in San Francisco Chinatown. His abusive father, who is always under the influence of alcohol, raises him to believe he will never succeed in life. Calvin’s bursts of anger earn him the nickname “Flash” but it’s also because of his agility on the basketball court. He has just graduated high school but, like most of his friends, he cannot afford to go to college. Unfortunately, it’s 1939, the time of the “Great Depression” so jobs were scarce, especially for a kid from Chinatown. He and his best friend Barney survive by playing basketball against Caucasian kids from other parts of San Francisco. They would hustle them by pretending to be bad, playing for a few dollars, then playing well and winning. Then one day, they are offered the opportunity to join an all Chinese-American basketball team and go “barnstorming” (traveling across the country putting on shows), and get paid for it! Neither Barney nor Calvin has traveled outside San Francisco so they jump at the chance to travel and play ball.
The book follows their journey with their team called the Dragons. They experience car breakdowns, snow storms, bumps and bruises, illness from drinking bad water, and most of all, racism. They are called names. They are banned from hotels and restaurants, and are attacked by a mob. They are used to San Francisco racism, but it does not compare to what they experience in other cities. At the end of the book Calvin must decide whether to stay with the Dragons or move to a better team. By the end of the book, the entire Dragons team has learned that they’re not alone against the world and that they have each other.
The author, Laurence Yep, was inspired to write this story after learning about the “pioneering professional Chinese American basketball team,” the Hong Wah Kues. The Dragons are Yep’s version of them.
Dragon Road captures what it’s like to live in Chinatown in the 1930s. I learned how the Chinese were mistreated, how they reacted to their treatment, and most importantly, how it made them feel. I also realized that the Chinese-American teens of 1939 acted like any other kid living in the United States. They did not really care about their family’s history; they just wanted to be normal American kids. I would have liked to learn more details about Chinatown’s history and its early immigrants. Also, the pace of the book was a bit slow. The author spent a lot time on the details of the games that seemed unimportant.