Marty Chan’s first novel was inspired by a family meal of calf brains when he was nine. Based on his weekly radio drama, The Dim Sum Diaries, which aired on CBC Radio Edmonton, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains, with great wit and compassion, tackles the theme of growing up as a member of a visible minority.
This semi-autobiographical novel is set in the fictional town of Bouvier in rural Alberta. The local elementary school is composed of warring French and English students, and, as the only Chinese boy in town, nine-year-old Marty Chan doesn’t feel he belongs to either group. He is bullied and called names like “Chinaman,” “freak-a-zoid” and “Smarty Marty” by his “red neck” classmates. When his Grade 3 teacher asks the class for the meaning of the word “alienate,” Marty Chan begins to suspect that he is an alien because he feels so different from everyone else.
When Marty defends a francophone, Remi Sasseville, they become close friends. After sharing a meal of octopus and chicken feet at the Chan’s, Remi is also convinced that they are aliens. Together, Marty and Remi set out to find conclusive proof – the existence of a spaceship. In the process, the two forge a strong bond of friendship that fills the “hole in Marty’s heart.” When they discover brains in a freezer, they think that Marty’s parents are abducting their classmates and attempting to invade the earth.
The real strength of this novel is the sensitive portrayal of the loneliness of the outsider who feels separated from the group and his longing to be accepted. The serious themes of bullying and racism are lightened by Chan’s humorous tone. A good read aloud choice, this novel will provide parents and teachers with opportunities for discussion about discrimination and the problems of fitting in. Boys in particular will enjoy this lighthearted take on the Hardy Boys detective novel.
– Jane Bridle is a Youth Services Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.