"Chinkstar" by Jon Chan Simpson

In Red Deer Alberta, Chinksta rap is the all the rage.  And the biggest star of the scene is rapper King Kwong.  But not everyone is a fan of Kwong - his younger brother Run doesn’t like his music or his personality.  He wishes he could have nothing to do with him.  

But Kwong has gone missing, days before the biggest performance of his life.  Run doesn’t really want to get involved, but when his mother is wounded by a bullet fired into their home, he has no choice.  Before he knows it Run, along with his best friend Ali, finds himself in the middle of a battle between Red Deer’s rival gangs.  

Chinkstar is a raw and fascinating novel by debut Canadian author Jon Chan Simpson.  A story of music, family, and culture, it takes readers on an adventure into a crazy world.

I decided to read this book after hearing Jon talk at the Word on the Street festival this past summer.  Speaking on a panel about diversity in the publishing world, he was hilarious and insightful and I knew I had to read his book.  But I must admit, this book was not what I was expecting at all!

The Red Deer in this book is a fictional small town that is ruled by an underground world of Asian gangs.  This is the world that Run finds himself in, trying to make his way through while he searches for his brother who has been kidnapped.  Meanwhile he is trying to outrun the scary older brother of his crush Ros, who won’t let any guy near his sister, and whoever it was that fired the bullet that hit his mother.

There is a whole lot that goes on in this novel, it definitely takes you on a ride that never lets up.  It is a whirlwind of a read and I enjoyed that about the book.  The story never lost my interest.  However, I found it to be a tough read.  The book is written completely in the slang that characterizes the rap scene that Run is immersed in and at times I found it distracting.  I don’t mind at all when characters speak in a slang or dialect that I’m unfamiliar with but here the slang is used even for the narration.  I found myself having to re-read paragraphs to understand what was going on.  I often felt like I was missing parts and would have to go back a few pages.

This is a unique story though and it makes Simpson a writer to watch in the Canadian literary scene.  Yes, I found it difficult to read, and I’m sure many will feel the same way, but the talent that Simpson has is evident and undeniable.  I look forward to what comes next.


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