Fourth on the ballot for Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. You can read it here.
Jack is the son of an American father and a Chinese mother, who was a mail-order bride. The marriage is a successful one, but at age 10 Jack becomes aware of the ethnic differences between himself and his American classmates.
When the family moves, two neighbors come to visit the new arrivals, and Jack overhears them talking about him:
“Slanty eyes, white face. A little monster.”
He begins to resent his mother’s lack of assimilation, refuses to speak to her in Chinese, and asks for “real toys” instead of the origami that his mother makes (animal figures which are more marvelous than the Star Wars toys that he desires, because his mother animates them with life).
The situation and the characters are compelling. But… it may be hard for a reader to believe the extreme coldness that Jack displays toward his mother, unrelenting until he reaches adulthood, a coldness that verges on cruelty when she appeals to him in vain and he rejects the new origami animals that she makes, her overtures to regain his love. Even ten-year-olds are not that easily ruled by peer pressure, or so steadfast in rejecting a loving parent. Nor is it easily credited that neighbors, no matter how prejudiced against a Chinese mother married to an American, would describe the child as a monster. I, at least, began to feel unfairly manipulated.
And this is a pity, because it is a lovely story that doesn’t need the excess. I think it has a chance of winning the Best Short Story award. Comments?