Review: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

The middle grade debut from author Jessica Kim, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! has been on the receiving end of multiple starred reviews and terrific praise. A contemporary story set in Los Angeles, centering on eleven-year-old Yumi and her secret desire to become a stand-up comedian, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is as wonderfully entertaining as it is poignant.

Yumi Chung’s privately held dream is to become just like her “personal hero”: comedian Jasmine Jasper. An internet star known for her stand-up comedy and “kids’ comedy tutorials”, Jasper’s hold-nothing-back approach to telling relatable stories about growing up and feeling totally uncomfortable and out of place connects on a gut-level with outwardly shy and self-conscious Yumi. First introduced to Yumi by seemingly flawless, genius older sister Yuri to help cheer Yumi up when she didn’t get invited to a classmate’s sleepover, the popular comedian has come to mean so much to Yumi: “In some ways, I feel like Jasmine Jasper gets me, maybe more than anyone else in my life. And she’s so fricking funny, too.”.

“Jokes? What for?” [Mom] tugs at the edges of the sheet to adjust it.

“For fun.”

Can’t a girl videotape herself practicing her stand-up act to a pretend audience for no particular reason without getting the third degree?

“Humph. Waste of time.” Mom takes a sea on the edge of my polka-dot bedspread and rearranges my pillows by size.

While having to keep this desire tucked away from her parents who do not see comedy as a viable line of interest or activity to pursue, Yumi faces new problems. With news that her parents are facing serious financial difficulties with their fifteen-years-running Korean BBQ restaurant, she learns that she must ace an academic exam to receive academic scholarship in order to keep attending “the best private school in Los Angeles”, Winston Preparatory Academy. When Yumi’s mom set downs that she must attend hagwon to prepare for the upcoming exam, Yumi feels like bursting. She’s already an outcast at Winston, not to mention that some kids bully her! Why are her parents even making her go there? What about her dreams- why can’t her parents see that wanting to spend time studying comedy and becoming a stand-up comedian isn’t a joke? And…just how much trouble is her parents’ restaurant really in? In a serendipitous turn, followed almost immediately by a serious case of mistaken identity and growing, uneasy lies, Yumi finds herself ‘registered’ for a kids’ comedy camp taught by none other than…Jasmine Jasper! With multiple plotlines running their way through the novel, including a very moving turn involving Yumi’s older sister, Kim does a fantastic job of keeping a swift pace all the while propelling Yuri’s complicated personal arc and moving toward nail-biting, moving, exciting reveals and a heartening grand finale.

Readers who have enjoyed compelling, can’t-put-down contemporary middle grade novels such as The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy, My Life as a Potato by Arianne Costner, or The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. PĂ©rez, might especially delight and cheer for Yumi. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is at once delightful and uplifting; a resonant, hopeful middle grade story that shows that owning up to mistakes and making the case for one’s ambitions and dreams is definitely, without a doubt challenging …seemingly Herculean!…but not impossible.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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