Any way you look at it, it’s been a rough senior year for Glee’s Mike Chang so far.
He got yelled at by Sue Sylvester on the third day of school. He had to convince some reluctant football players that dancing would help their sports skills. He watched several New Directions members leave the group and start a competing club. And then, just as he was helping whip the remaining glee clubbers into tip-top dancing shape, he received an A- on a chemistry test.
Brittany would have been thrilled, but Mike was devastated.
Turns out an A- is considered an “Asian F” in Mike’s family. In fact, the grade was low enough for his dad to call an emergency meeting with Principal Figgins to discuss Mike’s future.
It also turns out Mike’s parents want him to go to an Ivy League college and become a doctor or a lawyer. Mike, who’s played by Harry Shum Jr., wants to dance, but is afraid to tell his parents. He tries to improve his chemistry grade and secretly try out for the school musical, but there are too many schedule conflicts. His mother finds out he’s been cast as Riff and is supportive, but his father confronts Mike and ultimately disowns him when Mike admits he wants to perform.
And you thought your life was complicated.
Mike’s girlfriend, Tina, tries to help by visiting Mike’s father at work and sharing a DVD of his performance in “West Side Story.” But Mr. Chang is unmoved and accuses Tina of having unrealistic expectations and fostering the same in his son.
This is the point in the story where, if I were a librarian at William McKinley High School, I would have given Mike a copy of Good Enough (Harper Teen, 2008) by Paula Yoo.
Because it’s not an assigned English literature text and wouldn’t appear on a recommended reading list for the SATs, Mike probably would have had to read it on the sly, but I think the benefits would have been worth the risk.
It’s the story of Patti Yoon.
And her story is not unlike young Mr. Chang’s. Patti’s parents expect nothing but the best from her. But only if the best will look good on her applications to Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Straight As are an expectation and extracurricular activities are carefully chosen.
In fact, Patti was introduced to the violin as a young child so it could be her “hook.” Something that would help her stand out from the many other talented, college applicants with 4.0 GPAs and high standardized test scores.
But for that to happen, Patti has to be a good violinist.
Fortunately, Patti has a natural aptitude for the instrument. That coupled with private lessons and a rigorous practice schedule have turned her into one of the best high school players in the state. But her practice SAT scores aren’t as high as her parents would like them to be, so Patti finds herself on a strict schedule of studying, test-taking and violin playing.
There are breaks for her to attend church, where Patti’s youth group is made up of other Korean teens whose parents expect similar success. But there aren’t any breaks when a cute trumpet/guitar player invites Patti to jam with his band or attend a rock concert. And when she tries to juggle her schedule and secretly do a few fun activities, her parents find out and react pretty much like Mike’s dad.
Meanwhile, Patti is enjoying music more and more, and her private instructor is encouraging her to apply to Julliard. But that involves finding the time to master new music, send in an audition tape and then audition in person. This leads to more secret activities for Patti.
Things reach the tipping point when Patti gets accepted to Princeton, Yale and Julliard. (She’s wait-listed at Harvard.) She thinks her parents will be happy, but they’re more upset that she applied to Julliard without telling them.
Parents of struggling students everywhere are rolling their eyes right now.
But Patti’s parents want the best for her and are truly upset. And despite their high expectations, Patti loves her parents. But, like Mike, she gathers the courage to share her true feelings. Her exact words are, “Stop giving me such a hard time.” And, frankly, I wanted to put the book down and applaud when she said them.
Patti ends up deciding to go to Princeton, not Julliard. Some people might be frustrated by this ending, but it’s a choice she makes based weighing all the things that make her happy (violin, English lit, her church group friends) and choosing the school that gives her the most options. She does enroll in a special program there for musicians.
Ultimately, Patti’s biggest revelation in the book isn’t which college she’ll attend, but learning that success and happiness aren’t the same thing. And by choosing Princeton and its music program, she’s taking steps to a future that she thinks has the best chance of making her happy.
And that’s what Mike Chang needs to do, too. He took the first step when he talked with his parents and persisted in his goals even after his father stopped speaking to him. In “Hold on to Sixteen,” Mike’s father watches Mike perform at Sectionals and says he’ll support Mike if he decides to study dance in college.
So things seem to be looking up for Mike Chang now. But it’s a long season. And as we know with Glee, almost anything can happen.
But knowing that they’re good enough, just the way they are, is a good starting point for all the kids at William McKinley.
Here’s the list of books I’ve recommended to Glee characters so far:
• Mike Chang – Good Enough by Paula Yoo.
• Artie Abrams – Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson.
• Noah Puckerman - So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow.
• Brittany Pierce – Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.
• Mercedes Jones – Dramarama by E. Lockhart.
• Tina Cohen-Chang – My Not-So-Still Life by Liz Gallagher.
• Santana Lopez – Sister Mischief by Laura Goode.
• Blaine Anderson – Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin.
• Finn Hudson – Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron.
• Sam Evans – Guitar Boy by MJ Auch.
• Quinn Fabray – Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.
• David Karofsky – Dairy Queen and The Off Season both by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.
• Rachel Berry – Theater Geek by Mickey Rapkin.
• Kurt Hummel – Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.