Book Review: Pippa Park Raises Her Game

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I can’t stop talking about “Pippa Park”, a middle grade retelling of Dickens’ “Great Expectations, with a Korean-American main character! I adored the book, and loved learning about the rich Korean culture!
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
Pippa Park Raises Her Game
by Erin Yun (Goodreads Author)

5 out of 5 stars

When Pippa Park gets a basketball scholarship to a fancy private school, she feels pressured to pretend like she’s rich and cool so that she can fit in with her elite classmates. But how long can she keep up the farce, when her Korean family owns a laundromat and Pippa barely has money to buy a slice of pizza at the school cafeteria? With her grades slipping and her relationships in turmoil, Pippa begins to realize that some of her new friends have family secrets of their own.

This retelling of Dicken’s “Great Expectations” is utterly brilliant from start to finish!

Instead of “Pip”, the main character is Pippa. And most of the main characters found in “Great Expectations” have their counterparts in Pippa’s story. Not all of them make an appearance, and many are changed in significant ways, but play similar roles in the plot. Various characters are also gender-swapped, and I loved that! I had so much fun reading along, and suddenly realizing, “Oh! This character is supposed to be so-and-so from Great Expectations!” It’s not always obvious from the start who each character represents. Many of the new characters names begin with the same letter as the original characters, like a little clue to their alternate identities.

However, although many plot points and character roles are similar to “Great Expectations”, this book has its own voice, its own story, and its own delightful style!
It was especially interesting to see how the author took some basic plot points from Dickens and reimagined them in a modern setting with cell phones, school books, basketball, and the rich Korean-American culture that Pippa enjoys.

Speaking of basketball and Korea, I had a unique experience with this book that affected me very closely from the very first page.

(Personal story time… I was forced to attend a basketball camp for a week when I was in 6th grade, and I hated it. I have never been good at sports, and I spent the entire week just learning how to dribble. The other campers laughed at me because I had no skills at all, and it was one of the most embarrassing situations of my entire life. Needless to say, I hate basketball now, and you might be wondering… Why would I pick up a MG novel about basketball? Surely, the traumatic memories of my childhood would make me hate this book.)

This is where the genius of this book begins to make MAGIC happen!

The very first scene is of Pippa playing hoops by herself in a deserted playground. She describes how she loves playing basketball. She feels at home on the court, like she belongs, like all her problems just melt away when she feels the basketball between her fingertips.
The writing does such a genius job of describing her passion for this sport, and it reminded me of my passion for music. I’m a professional pianist, and when I sit at the piano I feel at home, like I belong, and all the world just melts away.

The writing uses a universal theme of having a passion for an activity, whether it is sports, or music, or art, or anything, so that I can understand that Pippa loves basketball. I can relate to her very closely, even though I don’t like the same thing she likes. I understand her as a character because the writing drew me into her world.

The writing does the same thing for Pippa’s Korean-American family culture. I don’t know the first thing about Korea, but I loved learning about it in this book! And I clearly understood Pippa’s feeling different from other people, because her family celebrates different holidays and does things in their own way. We all feel different sometimes, and the author uses that universal theme to bring Pippa’s story home to each of us.

That is why classics remain popular for hundreds of years. They touch on universal ideas that transcend time and apply to any reader of any age anywhere. This book does an excellent job of capturing those deep themes and bringing them to life in a modern setting with a fresh voice.

I loved reading this story and seeing which plot points stayed similar to “Great Expectations” and which things were changed. Pippa lives with her sister and brother-in-law, while her mother has stayed in Korea.

One of my favorite characters in “Great Expectations” is Joe. He is so sweet and kind, and I loved seeing him reimagined in the character of Jung-Hwa, Pippa’s brother-in-law. He really functions like a father figure in her life, encouraging her and working hard to support the family. Each of these characters are quickly given vibrant life in the first few scenes of book. For instance, Jung-Hwa has a little affectionate ritual that he does with Pippa where he boops her nose with his finger each day. Such a small detail with a world of meaning for this sweet family relationship.

I loved the complexity of Pippa’s relationship with her sister, Mina. Mina is tough on Pippa, nagging her about her grades, her chores, and making her work at the laundromat to earn her allowance. The two sisters argue and fight, but obviously love each other very much. They just aren’t always the best at expressing that love to one another. Their character development and the growth of their relationship is one of the best things about this book.

Of course, (in true Pip tradition) Pippa gets a crush on some rich boy who barely knows she’s alive. The descriptions of how she feels, what she thinks, how she worries about her appearance, and wants to be cool to impress the guy… all these things are so spot on and expressive. We’ve all had that impossible crush at one time or another.

I was so intrigued to read about the “cool” girls at Pippa’s new school, The Royals. They seem to befriend Pippa, but we are always wondering what their agenda must be. Are they going to turn on her when they find out the truth about her being poor? Those girls are a mystery, and I loved reading about them right up to the last page when their true colors are revealed.

I was delighted with how serious, comedic, and wild this plot ended up being. It starts out with some fairly tame school drama, but went into some intense tragedy and redemption near the end.

If you like classics, you will love this Dickens retelling! If you like basketball, Korean-American culture, or just excellent story-telling, you will love this book. It’s not just for middle-grade readers either. I’m 37, and I adore everything about Pippa Park!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Media Master Publicity in exchange for a free and honest review. All the opinions stated here are my own true thoughts, and are not influenced by anyone.

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