The Trouble with Belonging
The title of the book poses the question of just what it means to belong. How do you become part of the lives of someone, a family or a friend when you are just one person who has no idea who or where they belong? A young child has so many experiences to encounter, and many people will come into play in that child’s life. But, what happens when the one person who cares for you, explores different methods to keep you on task, enriches your life with books, talking, games and more and then is not longer there. How does a young child deal with loss? Kehuan’s mother, Soojin was his soulmate , best friend and the one person who could center him and keep him from going astray. His father was busy working and rarely had time for him. Kehuan was resigned and not ready and prepared for the news that his mother that we meet at the start of the novel was going to pass but his father Chen Liang was not. Kehuan was a bright and extremely intelligent child from the start and yet he never felt special or that he really belonged to anyone including his father. No friends, no family and little interaction with anyone except sitters who his father hired to take care of him, Kehuan rebelled and had to find a way to have his space, read books and listen to audios which took him away into other worlds. His father was Taiwanese and a brilliant international lawyer and Lee Soojin his mother was a secretary at the embassy. She was much young than Chen Liang. School was something that Kehuan liked and embraced. The classes were easy, but he was aloof and did not interact with the other students. Chen Xiao was a computer whizz and had a flair for business and Chen Liang and this man worked together. He found a few potential investors like Liu Wen and then started to soar. But then everything would change for this child. Forced to move schools, leave his home and then living with Chen Xiao because his father was learning for Poland to set about the opening of the company’s new subsidiary . Kehuan was upset and did not want to go to Warsaw but remain where he was. But things would change from now on. What happens when you have no family or friends and feel all alone? Sometimes when you least expect it someone comes into your life and your paths will collide, your experiences will change sometimes collide and then drifting apart. Mick was a street child who came into his life out of nowhere. She loved to roam the streets alone and her mother, Alina was working cleaning houses. No supervision she was independent and one her own. Having a special talent that the author explores she loves making artistic things out of another and would thing nothing about being up to a stranger and talking with them. Kehuan did not understand much of what happened in school and why the other children were attacking him. He made a mistake and asked his father about it, and he was angry. Kehuan had an English Tutor Tomek and he talked abou it with he, he just wanted to understand.
Niki became part of his life from the moment he set eyes on her. An Asian boy and a free-spirited young girl with no one to care for her and tons of baggage on top of it but was a talented artist who used this craft as a mode of expression of feelings and belonging. Kehuan was taken with Niki and wanted to find her to learn more about her. Even though she was a street child he did not care. Learning English, Polish and finding which heritage was his was a challenge, Alina, and Niki became part of his life and from then on everything would change. Chen Liang never remembered his son’s age and he was taller than most. But lives change and he became part of Alina’s life but when and Alina are in a car accident and then Niki is missing Kehuan’s life will never be the same. Tradition, belonging now he would meet Seong Jaemin his cousin and other cousins and then would bond to a point. Kehuan remembers there was a thing about different ways you were supposed to talk to people IN Korean. Language plays an important part in this novel. Imagine when you cousin from Korea walks into your classroom and things take on a different light. Jaejin song the thought was the dimwitted and he is hating having him around. Meaning while Alina was working hard, and Niki was all over the place. Things got tense and then Alina was in an accident and ICE became involved and something had to be done about Niki. With the help of Chen Xiao who was still int hit hospital and not able to communicate, things would have to happen fast. Niki disappeared when the accident happened and when found she needed to become part of a family . Getting to know his family was not easy for Kehuan and he would consider learning more about music and even learning more about exercise that would be fun. Then Anna came into their lives and at first she seemed the perfect solution to care for Niki but looks are deceiving. School changed Niki and she learned more about living with Anna and Niki became his daughter to keep her here and not have her sent away. Niki wanted Kehuan to be nice to Anna and he even learned to play the piano at home, but he rarely got involved in school events Throughout the novel both Niki and Kehuan find their way in school and each one completes the difficult programs and passes their tests to be applied to move to a higher level of education.
Kehuan and Niki’s lives changed but one thing you can tell is that there was a special attraction they both had for each other but too young to explore. Things go well until Kahuan becomes a problem in school, but the other students were using force to hurt him, and he was not going to take it and the insult he hurled was the only thine that got him in trouble. Major changes happened to both including Taejin with the real age difference between them and how Taejin invited his friends for his birthday and things go out of hand.,. Whereas Taejin always adheres to what his father and mother want for him even taking the classes they want. Ridhaan wants to remain in Warsaw whereas his parents might force him to leave. Kehuan runs in different lines that that of his cousins and his friends. Although he’s gifted in so many different directions Kehuan is also unable to communicate and socialize with his peers. Niki becomes the center of his life, and he finally understands the true meaning of unconditional friendship, but it will take years before they both grow to understand the true meaning of family, hope and belonging. Filled with emotional upheavals, relationship difficulties and disconnects that are caused by not only Kehuan’s father, family differences and cultural issues and language barriers, this novel focuses on the meaning of acceptance, loss, racism, love and belonging and trust. The cultural differences, the discord between family members and values and a father that learned many important things about himself and his son taking many different journeys to countries with diverse backgrounds and languages, author Magdalena Stanhoff’s the Trouble Belonging, reminds teens and adults that in some way we all belong to someone. Betrayals, deceptions and one person who turns a blind eye when Niki becomes the object of someone’s wants and desires to prove he can and learns what happens when you cross a delicate line.
Every character within this novel learns about themselves and begins to look deep inside to find who they really are, where they want to be as Niki and Kehuan after all their conflicts, forced separations to complete their studies, grow as individuals, finally in the end might understand what Chen Liang wanted them to embrace. Can each one learns to live on their own as independent individuals and yet feel like they belong? A thought-provoking novel with so many twists and turns like a mystery that fills the hearts of each character until the very end when they might understand who they are and where they might belong.
Fran Lewis just reviews