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Free Food for Millionaires    by Min Jin Lee order for
Free Food for Millionaires
by Min Jin Lee
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Free Food for Millionaires is a book that swallowed me for days and then spit me back up into the real world gasping and complaining that I wasn't ready for it to end. It is a long book. It's also a wonderful book, about people who became my family and world for a short time. We sort of know what's going to happen next to Ella, Leah, Tina, Joseph, and the rest, but we're not really sure about Casey and Unu, and oh, we care so much about Casey and Unu, particularly Casey, our heroine.

The main characters are Koreans who have become Americans and live in New York City, that most international of metropolises. Many books have been written about immigrants from various countries coming to the United States and becoming Americans in New York, and here is another that can hold its own with the best of them. The parents who work so hard and have so little are depicted along with the older ones who were luckier, had a better education, or made more money more easily. We are interested in them, but their children are the heart of this story. The children struggle between the customs of their beloved, respected elders and the realities of modern American life.

Casey Han has just graduated from Princeton at the beginning of the book. She has come home to Joseph and Leah's cramped apartment to once again share a bedroom with her younger sister Tina, spend the summer working, and go to law school in the fall. She and her father have never gotten along, probably because they're too much alike, although neither one of them would have agreed with that assessment. At any rate, they manage to get into a huge fight before dinner is even ready, and her father throws her out of the house and slaps her so hard that her face is swollen and bruised. He accuses her of not respecting him, and she is too stubborn to apologize. Casey leaves her parents' house and begins her search for independence.

There were many times as I read the book that I wanted to shout at Casey and tell her what to do, just as everyone around her seemed to be doing all the time. Everyone else seemed to know what Casey should do, but she had to try things out for herself, succeeding sometimes, falling on her face more often than not, and working things out. By the time I finished the book I knew she'd be okay, but I cared so much about her that I wanted to be sure. I wanted more, even though I knew that more wasn't necessary.

For me, hating to finish a book is the highest praise that I can give it. The characters jump off the page and into my life, and I think about them in the night when I can't sleep. What will Casey do now? Will Unu really be okay? Are Leah and Joseph going to finally accept Casey and let her be herself? Growing up is hard, even harder when you're growing away from your family and culture. Everything turned out for the best in the end, I loved the book, and I'll look forward to another by this author.

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