The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito.
By Shing Yin Khor
Publisher: Zest Books; 1 edition
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
I was intrigued when I saw Shing Yin Khor’s book about the “American Dream” and, although it was her interpretation of her American Dream, I was absorbed by the illustrations and the promising content.
I want to start with the illustrations. I am also an illustrator and an artist myself (although, not very good) so I do appreciate looking at the nicely done watercolor illustrations and visual contents. I especially love the two-page spreads of landscape illustrations of Owl Canyon, AZ, and Blue Mesa at the Petrified Forest National Park. I love the contrasting color schemes used on the sunset, dusk, the expanse of the landscape, and a few sprinkles of stars in the darkening sky. I liked how she used movements on the paintings to convey people’s (and animals’) expressions and feelings. I like the color scheme overall.
In the beginning, the author described how she longed to understand the concept of the American Dream and hoped to achieve this by undertaking a road trip with her dog, along the historic Route 66. To her, the forgotten era of “tacky roadside attractions, and tiny abandoned towns, and little diners and motels” were the characterization of America “more than anything else.” She had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years and wanted to explore the “real America.” She met people, both friends and strangers in different towns and cities, who aided her in her journey with her quest.
She liked using peculiar words such as “kitsch” and “outsiderness” and, as another reviewer had stated, the writing style may be more suitable for younger readers. Her attention to detail is apparent, however, it can be improved. For instance, the map of the U.S. did not match her state maps–Chicago is by the water and not landlocked (pp 10-11). I couldn’t actually tell if her dog, Bug was a girl or a boy. She referred to the dog as “she/her” but female dogs don’t normally raise their hind leg to pee 😉
In a sense, I somewhat relate to her story. I too am an immigrant to the U.S. but we have two different interpretations of what embodies the American dream.
Towards the end, and halfway through her journey, she had become exhausted and “skeptical that the American dream still existed” but remained hopeful of its potential, just like the deserted waterpark she was sitting on at the time. She may have finally realized that her journey had become ineffectual, as I have also felt the same while getting closer to the end of the book. Her last half of the trip (from Texas to Illinois) seemed rushed compared to the beginning, where she spent almost a quarter of her time mostly in Arizona. By the end, she felt unaccomplished by taking the long road trip. I also felt unfulfilled after going through the rest of the book.
I think that the book title The American Dream? depicts its content precisely, in that she was left uncertain of her purpose in taking this journey (hence having a question mark.) I give this book 3.5 (out of 5) stars.
I cannot help but compare Khor’s memoir with another recently published book with (almost) the same title, I Was Their American Dream by Malika Gharib. I highly recommend Gharib’s book, where she also described her upbringings in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious household and community, and how she had managed to get to where she is now. Read my review to I Was Their American Dream.
Image copyright: Shing Yin Khor’s Portfolio, sawdustbear.com. I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.