Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung (Arthur A. Levine Books, middle grade, April 26, 2016), is a book I've been looking forward to for ages. Mike Jung's first book, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities was excellent middle grade fantastical fun with a twist, and I wanted more! USO is also excellent middle grade speculative fiction story with a twist, and there are plenty of amusing parts, but I wouldn't call it a light-hearted romp. Which is fine, because it's not like middle school is one light-hearted romp after another. Middle school is more about figuring out who you are, and who you want to be, and this is what is preoccupying the heroine, Chloe Cho. Her family are the only Asians in a small middle American town, and Chloe's teeth are very much on edge about the clueless stereotypes, confusions, and thoughtless racism that's she's put up with all her life. She's smart and plays the violin well not because she's Korean, but because she's Chloe, her own person for crying out loud.
Chloe's teeth are also on edge because of her parents' lack of understanding that she might want to explore Korean culture, and hear stories of her family, and that she might want a bit of help figuring out what that part of her identity entails. When (wonder of wonders!) her new social studies teacher turns out to be Korean as well, something in Chloe relaxes, but her teacher doesn't exactly help her feel comfortable in her own skin. Instead, when she assigns a family history project, which goes very wrong for Chloe, things get even more uncomfortable. Chloe's anger starts driving her best friend Shelley away, and that just makes her madder.
And then Chloe's parents throw her an utterly astonishing curveball of family history that, in it's unexpectedness and unbelievableness, jars her out of her loop of angry withdrawal, and (somewhat ironically, given what she learns) she's able to find herself again. There have been negative consequences to her rebellion, and they don't magically go away, but it's clear that Chloe is on her way to being a stronger person (and she and Shelley repair their friendship, which is nice for both of them!).
I couldn't quite warm to USO, because Chloe was just so darn prickly so much of the time, with reason, and totally believably in a middle grade way, but still, not much empathy. The twist that makes this speculative fiction, though, is just spot on appealing for the target audience. I think that if you like realistic fiction in which the tension comes from internal conflicts (rather than, for instance, distant, drunk, or dead parents/friends/siblings), and if you enjoy having that realism turned on its head (while managing to remain fully rooted in our world), you'll like this one lots. My friend Brandy, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, did, for instance, and Ms. Yingling recommends it as well, so there you go.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher