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George Point: Book Talk! You Are Here: Connecting Flights


The disturbing rise in hate crimes directed at Asian Americans has sparked the publication of a number of books aimed at exploring the issue. In “You Are Here: Connecting Flights” (Allida), editor / author Ellen Oh brings together the work of 12 authors (including Oh) in a dozen interwoven tales for readers 8 to 12 years old that examine the themes of cultural identity, belonging, prejudice and their impact on Asian Americans.

As co-founder of “We Need Diverse Books” and author of the award-winning Spirit Hunters series Prophecy trilogy (“Prophecy,” “Warrior,” and “King”) for young readers, Oh is deeply immersed in and well qualified to address the topic. And Oh has assembled a first-rate team of East and Southeast Asian American authors including Linda Sue Park, Erin Entrada Kelly, Grace Lin, Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Minh Lê, Ellen Oh, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, and Susan Tan, and edited by Oh.

The stories are set in a busy Chicago airport, when a TSA “incident” results in canceled and delayed flights, long lines at airport security, and consternation among the would-be travelers, including many Americans whose family roots extend to East and Southeast Asia.

Americans like Lee Chang, a 12-year-old flying on his own on the way to the West Coast along with his blue Fender Stratocaster guitar to visit and jam with Uncle Jack, a musician who jokes that he’s the best (and only) Asian guitarist in the world. When two TSA agents express skepticism that his case contains a guitar, because people “like him” only play the piano or violin, Lee proves to the guards and to himself that guitar gods are made, not born, and makes an unexpected discovery in the process.

Expressions of racism, subtle and overt, appear throughout “You Are Here.” The collection of vignettes opens with “Paul: Something to Declare.” Young Paul has been waiting and waiting in endless lines, along with his mother, dad, baby Jessie and his grandmother before boarding what he knows will be an even longer arduous first leg of the family’s journey to grandmother’s native Thailand.

Managing the logistics of a long, multi-generational family plane trip are stressful enough, and when an impatient, arrogant traveler – a character who we will meet again throughout “You Are Here” – attempts to cut the line, grandmother tactfully stands her ground, eliciting expressions of disdain and mutterings to the youngster accompanying the aggressive traveler about “those people.”

We’ll soon meet Paul and his family again as well, at the end of that TSA line, and witness an encounter with a TSA agent, Paul, his grandmother and an unexpected “passenger” that imparts a lesson in Thai religious traditions and underscores that while prejudice and downright hostility toward the “other” exists in many forms, accommodation between old and new cultural traditions is possible, and can manifest itself in unexpected and welcome ways.

It’s a theme woven throughout “You Are Here”; striking a balance between racism both subtle and overt and acceptance and celebration of the differences between us. Either can appear at any time, and Oh and the 11 other writers she has chosen to include in “You Are Here” repeatedly drive that point home gently yet effectively.

The takeaway here for young readers, for all of us for that matter, is to lead by example. That means not reflexively responding to hate in kind, but that standing up for oneself and others with reason, dignity and positivity keeps one firmly on the path to maturity and self-respect.