Joseph Calderaro is turning 14. What can possibly happen on his birthday to bum him out? Well...starting the day off with burnt PopTarts is a sign. Then with 10 minutes left in social studies, Mrs. Peroutka drops the bomb in the form of the assignment "Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay". The essay is to be 1500 words long, and here it is May already. But the word count is not Joseph's biggest problem. He's adopted. What the heck does he know about his heritage.
Joseph thinks that maybe his mother's famous birthday dinner will save his spirits a bit. The eggplant Parmesan does go down nicely, but once the presents come out there is more trouble. Joseph's dad gives him a corno. You know...the Italian gold horn that keeps away the malocchio? Aside from the fact that no self respecting 14-year-old is going to walk around with that kind of gold chain, Joseph just doesn't know how to break it to his parents that he's not Italian...he's Korean. At least that is how he feels at that moment.
Joseph goes on to explore his past without the knowledge of his parents. Along the way, a new Korean family moves into town, and Joseph's parents nudge him over to try and help him out with his identity. But when Joseph is with Yongsu and his family, he doesn't even feel Korean.
So where does this leave Joseph? If he's not really Korean, and not really Italian, what is he?
Rose Kent does a bang-up job of finding the voice of a 14-year-old boy. Joseph's struggles with his parents and his identity are equal measure growing pains and adoption pains. Books about adopted kids are always tricky, because the fact of the matter is, every adoptee feels a bit different. In my own family, my father and his brother and sister were all adopted, and they all had very different reactions to finding out and toward the idea of a search for birth parents. Kent lets readers in on not only the world of adoption, but quite a bit of information about Italian and Korean culture. Joseph is such a great character and is so easy to relate to that readers will cheer for him as he finds his way.