There are worse things in the world than being an ethnic sandwich, but right now, 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro can't think of one. Adopted at birth from Korea by two loving, outspoken Italian-Americans, Joseph runs smack dab into the clash of two cultures, the reality of his adoption and his own coming-of-age in this funny, tender tale by new author Rose Kent.
Joseph's 14th birthday starts with a burned Pop-Tart that should have been a sign. His social studies teacher throws a curve ball at the class when she gives her eighth graders a 1,500-word essay assignment called Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay. This is a tough task for Joseph, since the whole idea of his heritage is a bit tricky. His father has given him a corno, a goat horn that Italian men wear on a chain to protect against the malocchio, or evil eye. Not only does the gift remind him of the dreaded assignment, it reminds him that he is not really Italian, either. Each time Joseph tries to ask his father about his adoption and Korean heritage, it seems to drive a wedge between father and son.
In searching for his heritage, Joseph turns to the place every red-blooded American would look: the Internet. And there he finds a Korean any boy would be proud to claim as his ancestor, Olympic athlete Sohn Kee Chung. Faced with the approaching deadline and little help from his anxious but well-meaning parents, Joseph makes a most un-Josephlike decision: he writes that Sohn Kee Chung is his grandfather. When Joseph's invented history is exposed, his parents respond with concern for their confused son and come to understand how his search for a heritage makes him feel squished between two worlds.
For adopted children and others who wish to understand them better, look no further. Kent, the mother of two adopted children from Korea and two biological children who are part Korean, allows us a fascinating fictionalized peek at this world.