Review: Open Mic, edited by Mitali Perkins

Posted November 2, 2014 by Tara Gold in Review /// 1 Comment

Review: Open Mic, edited by Mitali PerkinsOpen Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices by Cherry Cheva, David Yoo, Debbie Rigaud, Francisco X. Stork, Gene Luen Yang, Greg Neri, Mitali Perkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Varian Johnson
Series: standalone
Published by Candlewick Press on 2013
Genres: Contemporary, short stories, YA, Young Adult
Pages: 144
Format: hardcover
Source: Purchased from Barnes and Noble

Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race.

Listen in as ten YA authors -- some familiar, some new -- use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while -- until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

This little collection of short stories is a quick and fun read. I had my students read it for the YA Lit class I’m teaching because it covers many elements of diversity that we could not hit in just a few novels (plus we needed a short story collection on the syllabus). I love this little book. The premise is that humor can be an excellent bridge between cultures, so each of these very short stories is light and funny, yet packed with truth about growing up in a diverse America.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the stories included in this collection:

“Becoming Henry Lee” by David Yoo 
A story about a Korean-American boy trying to fight Asian stereotypes, but then realizing that he should embrace them and be himself. A perfect opener to the collection with lots of humor!

“Why I Won’t Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie” by Gene Luen Yang
A graphic explanation for why the white-washing of the Airbender movie is not okay.

“Talent Show” by Cherry Cheva
A Jewish boy auditioning for the talent show with his violin when he meets an Asian girl preparing to go on stage for her comedy routine. A super-cute story with super-cute humor.

“Voilà!” by Debbie Rigaud
A Haitian teen accompanies her Aunt to the doctor’s office, where she meets his classmates doing volunteer work. She is confronted with having to hide from them or explain her life.

“Three Pointer” by Mitali Perkins
Three Indian sisters secretly play a dating game behind their parent’s backs, complete with points. The main character stresses how hard it is to be an Indian girl trying to date white boys.

“Like Me” by Varian Johnson
Story about the only black girl in a Vermont boarding school…until two new freshman twins start attending the school and she has to work up the nerve to talk to them. Also has LGBT themes.

“Confessions of a Black Geek” by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
It’s hard to be black and a geek, because everyone assumes that the MC did not get into a top college on her own merit.

“Under Berlin” G. Neri
I loved this story about a black family living in Berlin! The whole story takes place on the U-Bahn and definitely made me think about racial politics in modern Germany (something I thought about a lot while I was over there).

“Brotherly Love” by Francisco X. Stork
A Mexican boy wonders if his brother might be gay. LGBT themes.

“Lexicon” by Naomi Shihab Nye
A lovely closing poem.

My favorite story in the collection was probably David Yoo’s, as I believe it was a strong opening to the book. I also think that Varian Johnson’s story left me beaming on the last page. As with any short story collection, some stories are better than others — but I found that I had a higher percentage of stories I liked or loved her than in other collections I’ve read. I will be looking forward to reading more by some of these authors!


Highly recommended for a school library, and possibly to to read in the classroom setting. The great thing about a short-story collection is that these can be read quickly and there are many activities that a teacher could use around the text! I can already think of three or four creative ways that I could work this into a one-day lesson that packs some punch!

Tara Gold

Tara is a PhD candidate studying education. Her dissertation is on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life...well, that's yet to be determined, but it probably involves getting kids jazzed about books or research. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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