Funny and insightful ... Satisfying ... Humorously poignant ... Ma plays brilliantly with stereotypes without stereotyping. She deftly handles a multitude of plot threads and conflicts among Shelley’s web of connections in the U.S. and China as he carries on, almost in spite of himself ... She is a master of voice.
Immigrant novels are so frequently tales of devastating woe, but Ma’s iteration of the young migrant story is imbued with inherent optimism. Shelley’s buoyancy is frustratingly naïve, and often completely foolish if you have any understanding of how brutal living in America actually is, but you root for Shelley in part because Shelley is rooting for Shelley. Ma finds wry humor in Shelley getting to know the mores of his new country ... By the end, he does indeed come out on top, even if it’s in ways neither he nor the reader could have predicted.
While The Chinese Groove is satisfyingly Dickensian in its plot twists and intriguing characters...as an immigrant narrative it doesn’t always get beyond the usual clichés about language barriers and cultural differences ... Shelley’s character feels inconsistent ... An otherwise thoughtfully crafted bildungsroman full of twists and turns.
Despite its upbeat title, the novel centers around the ways in which people deal with grief ... The Chinese Groove deals with serious subjects like homelessness and death, but through Shelley’s happy-go-lucky demeanor and his commitment to his friends, the novel also shows that circumstances can always get better.
Ma has written an immigrant’s coming-of-age story that’s neither cloying unrealistic nor bleakly unhopeful. Rather, it’s a testament to the power of community and persistence—even if nothing goes as planned.
Vibrant ... hough the episodic plot gets a bit unwieldy with its many side characters and hurdles...Ma does a good job conveying the bonds of Shelley’s community and family. This immersive story is worth a look.