Eighteen-year-old Shelley, born into a much-despised branch of the Zheng family in Yunnan Province and living in the shadow of his widowed father's grief, dreams of bigger things. Buoyed by an exuberant heart and his cousin Deng's tall tales about the United States, Shelley heads to San Francisco to claim his destiny, confident that any hurdles will be easily overcome by the awesome powers of the "Chinese groove," a belief in the unspoken bonds between countrymen that transcend time and borders.
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.