Bette Bao Lord

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson Summary

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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is a 1984 children’s novel by Chinese-American author Bette Bao Lord. Set in the United States after World War II, it follows a girl named Shirley Temple Wong who emigrates with her family from China when her father is hired as an engineer. The novel concerns the transformations that happen to one’s national identity and conception of home when one is abruptly transplanted into a completely new place. In America, Shirley’s family tries to preserve their Chinese traditions and attachments, while balancing them with their new American ones. Lord’s novel shows that having two countries that one considers “home” can enrich one’s identity, creating what she calls “double happiness.”

The novel begins in 1947, the Chinese Year of the Boar. Sixth Cousin, who goes by the nickname “Bandit,” moves to America with her parents. She chooses the American name Shirley Temple, and though she knows little about New York, looks forward to learning how to fit into the new environment. Her family settles in Brooklyn, one of the most multicultural boroughs of New York City and home to millions of recent immigrants from all over the world. Given this fact, she is surprised and disheartened to learn that she is the only student in her class that doesn’t know English.

Initially, Shirley struggles to make friends. One day, she gets into a fight with a fifth-grade girl, Mabel, who is notorious for her strength and ruthlessness. Mabel gives Shirley two black eyes. Shirley does not tell on her, inadvertently gaining Mabel’s friendship. Mabel introduces Shirley to the ubiquitous American sport, baseball. Shirley is soon fascinated with baseball, closely following their home team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, via the family’s small radio. She becomes a passionate fan of the Dodgers’ star, Jackie Robinson. Meanwhile, she makes money babysitting for her neighbor Mrs. O’Reilly’s three kids. Her family’s landlady, Señora Rodriguez, teaches her piano. Embracing the fact that she will always be part Chinese, Shirley is conscious of the habits and culture of China that are slipping away, as she adjusts to her American home.

Some aspects of American life, especially the quirks of the English language, prove strange and lead to humorous outcomes. For example, when Shirley picks up stickball on the schoolyard, the players frequently misinterpret her English. They sometimes pick on her because they find her tenuous grasp of the language funny, combined with her small size and tendency to bow as an expression of acknowledgment. Shirley’s parents try to help her feel comfortable in Brooklyn, though they are not sure how best to accommodate her as an adolescent in a new country.

At the novel’s high point, Shirley meets Jackie Robinson in the flesh. Robinson is the first African-American person to play in Major League Baseball. Shirley resonates with Robinson’s story because she, too, has struggled to fit in in a dramatically new environment without any form of blueprint or instruction. She delights in the fact that they share some quirks, such as being pigeon-toed. Ultimately, Shirley’s new love for baseball symbolizes her burgeoning love and acceptance of the American side of her identity. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson demonstrates that no one needs to forgo one’s roots to form a loving attachment to a new place.