S01E02 – The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling

Just as there is power in a good dumpling, there is power in good representation. We discuss main character Anna’s experience of caring for a family member with mental health issues as a first-generation Asian Australian; the trajectory of recovery; and what a guidance counsellor should not say to a student.

Mental health issues covered: depression, suicide attempt, hospital stay, therapy, psychosis, paranoia/delusion, carer stress, anxiety, self-doubt, cultural understanding and expectations around ‘mental health’ including use of word ‘cr*zy’, lack of open discussion about mental health, pressure within the family to keep mental health struggles private to maintain familial reputation.

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, animal cruelty, mental health stigma, family violence

Listen to the episode:

About the Book

Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

About the Author

Wai Chim is the author of a number of children’s titles, including the Chook Chook series and Shaozhen. Her debut YA, Freedom Swimmer was published by Allen & Unwin in Sept 2016. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling was released in Australia in August 2019 and the US in November 2020.

Outside of writing, Wai enjoys cooking, pretending to yoga and ogling cute animals. She also spends a lot of her time creating paper craft animations and adventures for @bogsthepenguin. Part of the internet generation, she works as a digital producer, copywriter and digital creative for a number of notable Australian brands and agencies.

Recommended Readings

Relevant mental health resources:

  • BeyondBlue has a range of mental health resources on several topics translated into a number of languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Dinka, Hindi, Spanish, Swahili, Vietnamese. So does Embrace Multicultural Mental Health.
  • SANE Australia has a lot of information around psychosis and related disorders, navigating the hospital system, and information for carers.
  • Formerly ARAFMI, Mental Health Carers Australia advocates for the well-being and needs of the carers and families supporting a person with mental health issues. So does Carers Australia.
  • One Door Mental Health (formerly known as Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW) is a leading mental health service provider specialising in severe and persistent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
  • Mental Health First Aid Australia offers training in providing support to someone dealing with mental health issues, including people who may be experiencing psychosis.
  • Did you know that, in many areas, people can access translators and interpreters for free through the public system? For instance, in Australia, Victorian government schools can access the services of Victorian Interpreting and Translation Services (VITS) (link). In New South Wales, you can use interpreting services to report a child at risk (information can be found here)
  • If you are a mental health professional in Australia, Victorian Transcultural Mental Health offers four free online learning courses related to improving cultural responsiveness.
  • HeartChat is a website that helps people find mental health professionals who share their language and/or cultural background.

More books like The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling:

  • ReadAsianOz has a great list of other YA stories featuring Asian-Australian characters. We particularly recommend Laurinda by Alice Pung (and any work by Alice Pung, really). Laurinda tells the story of Lucy Lan, who wins a scholarship to an exclusive school for girls and finds herself balancing different sides of her identity.
  • The Family Law by Benjamin Law is a hilarious and lovely collection of tales about the Law family , and what it was like growing up in regional Queensland as the gay son of immigrants from Hong Kong.

Other reviews

Often mental illness in Asian families is something to be shunned, something that is swept under the rug and wasn’t talked about. Instead of talking about it openly, and getting those affected the help that was needed, it was something to be ashamed of. Something that highlighted the weaknesses in one’s family. Something that was blamed on the children growing up. And all of that hurt, all of that pain is something that is captured in Good Dumpling. Not only is it covered empathetically, but it’s also done without blame.

Jeann @ Happy Indulgence Books

There were specific ways that being a Chinese migrant impacted her mother’s experience of mental illness. From the isolation of their earlier life in Gosford to needing to find a psychologist who spoke Cantonese, all impacted her experiences with the (woefully inadequate and underfunded) resources Australia provides those who need it. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, specifically examines how mental health stigma manifests in Chinese migrant culture but also, through Rory’s experiences with severe depression, shows that it is not unique to that community, rather is common across the country. Rory’s openness in discussing his mental health didn’t prevent his own experiences with stigma and bullying because of it.

Gilly @ Gilly Reads

Other Suggested Reading

On the TBR Pile

  • Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee is about two Chinese-American sisters: one who starts hearing voices, and the other who tries to look after her.
  • The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan follows a biracial girl on a journey to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, following her mother’s suicide.
  • We are also keen to read Wai Chim’s Freedom Swimmer.

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