“So funny and heartfelt.”—Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese “I love the profound honesty of I’m Ok.” —Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park
Ok Lee is determined to find the perfect get-rich-quick scheme in this funny, uplifting novel for fans of Counting by 7s and Crenshaw.
Ok Lee knows it’s his responsibility to help pay the bills. With his father gone and his mother working three jobs and still barely making ends meet, there’s really no other choice. If only he could win the cash prize at the school talent contest! But he can’t sing or dance, and has no magic up his sleeves, so he tries the next best thing: a hair braiding business.
It’s too bad the girls at school can’t pay him much, and he’s being befriended against his will by Mickey McDonald, the unusual girl with a larger-than-life personality. Who needs friends? They’d only distract from his mission, and Ok believes life is better on his own. Then there’s Asa Banks, the most popular boy in their grade, who’s got it out for Ok.
But when the pushy deacon at their Korean church starts wooing Ok’s mom, it’s the last straw. Ok has to come up with an exit strategy—fast.
I’m Ok one The woman’s face is so close to mine that I can tell her eyebrows aren’t real. Doodling in some eyes, fins, and tails would turn the pair into two fish facing off. Her eyes are red from crying. Her cheeks are streaked with gray from mascara that made a run for it. She looks down at me. I sink into my corner seat. There’s no place to hide in the basement of the First Korean Full Gospel Church.
“I feel so sorry for you. Poor, poor boy. Poor, poor Ok. What are you going to do? My heart, my heart,” she says, slapping her chest with her right hand, which is shackled with golden rings suffocating her plump fingers. “My heart aches for you and your mother,” she says, and pounds my back with a force that would dislodge a rock from my throat.
I bow my head and wait for her to move on to the group of women in the middle of the room, huddled around my mother like burrowing wasps, buzzing loud prayers. They moan and babble because the Holy Spirit has a hold of them. I wish the Holy Spirit would get a hold of me so I could wail my sadness too.
As soon as Fish Brows leaves, another woman rushes to me. She squats down at my feet so she can meet my lowered head. She puts her hand on my shoulder, looks up into my eyes, and tells me my father is in heaven, smiling down on me. See him? The woman bids me to be good and strong for my mother and have faith in God’s will, because I’m the man of the house now. God works in mysterious ways.
I nod like a robot. She stands and pulls me in to her, pressing my cheek against her stomach. I hear her heart beat, her insides gurgle, and her stomach growl. She opens her purse, digs out her wallet, pulls out bills, stuffs the money into the pockets of my borrowed suit jacket two sizes too big, and tells me to take good care of my mother. What does this mean? Isn’t she supposed to take care of me? I politely say thank you.
As Moneybags leaves, another woman walks toward me. She carries a plate of food. She’s short and round and looks plenty hungry. I brace myself for baptism by spit and bits of food. The plate is piled high with rice, fried dumplings, grilled short ribs, fried chicken wings, kimchi, bean cakes, potato salad, and japchae noodles. The woman looks down at me, smiles like we know each other, and puts her plate of food on my lap. It smells good. She tells me to eat, eat up, even if I’m not hungry, even if I don’t feel like it, because I’m going to need all the strength and energy to grow through this very hard thing that’s happened to me. It’s not normal, she says. It’s all wrong. What a senseless mess. Makes you want to kick some idiot’s butt, she says, shaking her head and exhaling, “Aigo. Aigo.” I take a bite of rice. It’s warm and soft and sticky, and tears start to form in my eyes, and soon my food is being sauced with snot. The woman hands me a napkin, and I thank her. I wipe my face, thinking how much I need my father to come back to life.
Born in Busan, South Korea, Patti Kim immigrated to the United States on Christmas, 1974. Convinced at the age of five that she was a writer, she scribbled gibberish all over the pages of her mother’s Korean-English dictionary and got in big trouble for it. But that didn’t stop her from writing. The author of I’m Ok, A Cab Called Reliable, Here I Am, and It’s Girls Like You, Mickey. Patti lives in University Park, Maryland, with her husband, two daughters, and a ferocious terrier. Visit her online at PattiKimWrites.com.
"I love the profound honesty of I'm Ok. Patti Kim goes beyond giving us a fully-realized and finely-drawn character: She illuminates the truth that an awkward, confused, funny, and tender thirteen-year-old still lives inside every one of us."
– Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist
“So funny and heartfelt. You know how they say the best fiction is true even though it’s made up? This book is true.”
– Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese
“Narrator Ok navigates this full plot with quirky humor that borders on dark at times. His feelings and actions dealing with his grief are authentic. . . . A work of heavy, realistic fiction told with oddball humor, honesty, and heart.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“A poignant look at navigating changes in family dynamics and welcoming unexpected friendships. This is an important novel that can serve as either a window or a mirror for middle-grade readers, making it ripe for wide appeal.”
“A stirring finale. . . . Ok tells his own story with humor and pathos. A South Korean immigrant herself, Kim incorporates Korean touches which add authenticity to the novel. Recommended.”
– School Library Connection
“An honest and poignant tale of an adolescent attempting to navigate his feelings of loss and inadequacy, and Kim writes with easygoing accessibility and vivid detail.”
"Kim, also a Korean immigrant, tells a moving story of family, culture, and growing up, through the eyes of a boy who struggles to fulfill his father’s American dream and maintain his own sense of pride. Ok’s anger and frustration about his father’s death and his mother’s burgeoning relationship with a deacon from their church ring particularly true, as do his ethical and emotional growth.”
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