Roundtable: Good Enough by Paula Yoo
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Paula Yoo's debut novel, Good Enough, was declared great by the readergirlz and chosen to be our selection for September 2008.
In this roundtable discussion, three members of the postergirlz teen lit advisory council plus readergirlz diva Lorie Ann Grover talk about schoolwork, homework, and making families work.
Little Willow: What did you think of Good Enough in general?
Jackie: I thought it was a really fun read. I'm happy that I can give it with confidence to all ages - and that's not common.
LW: I agree, Jackie. It's fun and it's clean, so I have no problem giving the book to middle school readers - though most of the girls I've shared it with have been high schoolers, all of which have told me they can "so relate to Patti," and I quote.
HWM: I enjoyed reading this book and could relate to everything on so many levels.
LW: I loved how the humor came from a very real place. It was a truly funny book because the funny bits felt true. The narrator wasn't a comedienne, and she wasn't TRYING to be funny - she simply was.
HWM: I laughed out loud in a couple places and I teared up too. I love books that get the emotions going.
LW: I think - not only from having read the book, but from speaking to the author about it, too - that Paula wrote Good Enough not to be a cautionary tale (this is what happens when you disobey your parents!) nor a recipe (directions on how to disobey your strict parents!) but instead to be simply real. I feel as though she accomplished that.
Lorie Ann: The voice rang true for me. I could feel Patti's pressure and enjoy her humor so much. I was instantly submerged in the story.
LW: Do you think the pressure to get good grades is greater now than it once was? The pressure to get into a good college?
HWM: I think academic pressure is so much more nowadays. In my town, parents debate whether delaying entrance into kindergarten a year is helpful to ensure the child is more mature and smarter to handle the academics and sports as they get older.
LW: I entered school early, then skipped a grade, then accelerated through as much and as quickly as school administrators would permit throughout my entire academic career, and graduated from high school early. I did not go directly to college, however, because we couldn't afford it.
HWM: I am a firm believer that a good college makes a difference:
1. A name college degree is one marker companies understand that shows whether an individual has what it takes to succeed.
2. Since so many people get their masters and doctorate level degrees nowadays, a college degree is expected by most companies as basic training for discipline and hard work.
3. Since so many educated people are out there, the competition for good jobs after college is fierce, so a good name college will help open up doors.
4. There is a huge amount of networking at the college level that will open up doors when one graduates from college -- whether it is from social or professional level standpoint. And I think teens are exposed to this knowledge, not only from their parents and high school counselors, but they also see it in movies and TV.
5. However, with all this said, there are plenty of people who are very successful who don't have the name degree or a college degree. Is it essential to have a degree from a name college? No. Is it helpful? Absolutely.
Jackie: I disagree, HWM. I think that you get out of education what you put into it. I will never believe that simply going to a "name" college makes your future easier. I firmly believe that it is your own ambition that forges your way in life. The only thing an elite college can promise is a huge bill. Networking can be done anywhere, and you make your own name - through whatever means you have, especially in these virtual days. Passion shines through, and hard work will get you what you want if you are savvy enough to play the game. I think that more and more parents and students are realizing this, and that's why community college enrollment is exploding. I'm sure the economy is helping fuel that trend, but when so many teens have no idea what they want when the first start, why waste money just for the brand? It's just another form of shallow consumer materialism. Some of the best colleges out there are ones we've never heard of. It's far more
important for students to find a school that they will feel comfortable and thrive in than one that gives them some silly couture points. But then, I went to state schools, paid my way through (meaning: no school debt), and am quite happy with my dream job.
HWM: Jackie, you've raised great points. You're right, "passion does shine through and hard work will get you what you want..." Because it does and I do agree a degree from a name college isn't essential.
What I wanted to point out is that have a name degree makes life easier. I never thought this when I was younger, in fact, I rebelled against the Ivy League mentality when I was applying to colleges and thought it was the most screwed up thing I've ever heard. But it was so important to my parents, and their determination that I get into a good college so fierce, that I caved in.
Justina Chen Headley's book Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) was the first book I've ever read that I could relate to, and now I can add Paula Yoo's book, Good Enough to nailing it down perfectly. I'm not sure whether my opinion comes from being a product of the Northeast (where education is key, especially if one doesn't have a family pedigree), having Korean parents, experiencing open doors because of my degree, or having worked in the corporate world for years. I would have been so thrilled to have Good Enough and Nothing but the Truth when I was a teen. I didn't realize other parents were like mine until I was in college, and I met my best friend -- her mother is from Germany, her dad from Massachusetts. My friend and I would trade stories and laugh at how the lectures and the pressure to succeed was so similar, which the two of us decided was because our parents were first generation immigrants.
The competition is fierce to get into a good college up here and there are many over-qualified teens who don't get in -- one of my nephews was one of them -- Honors student, hockey team and baseball team captain, Honors Latin, near perfect scores on the SAT, incredible work experience and volunteer experience. In case anyone is curious, US News & World Report has their annual top college list up.
Basically, I think the name college degree helps open up opportunities that one wouldn't get so easily without it. Will it matter ten years or even twenty years later? Probably not. But in those first few years out into the corporate world, at least here in the Northeast, it's very helpful.
Lorie Ann: Interesting thoughts, ladies. I find there's more pressure today to attend Ivy League schools than when I was making my choices. Although I do think there is a quiet movement where students are being challenged to consider a variety of education options. What's profitable for one person might not be so for another. Overall, it does seem to me that there's less pressure on the West Coast than on the East Coast.
HWM: There has been a movement for students to graduate in three years, rather than the customary four years due to the finances. I thought I had put in an article from The Boston Globe. I'll have to look for it. Plus, there are plenty of students who work full-time and then earn their degree on a part-time basis. And let us not forget that work experience is sometimes a degree in itself.
LW: How did your high school experience compare to Patti's?
Jackie: I was largely a slacker in high school. I didn't apply myself or really try all that hard. I got by because I was a good kid, they knew I was smart, and what I'd turn in (when I felt like it) was just good enough to be better than the average. Now, *I* consider myself a slacker because I know I could have done A LOT better, but I'm not sure that was the general perception of me, though I'm sure my teachers suspected I could have done better. I got mostly A's and B's, and I didn't care one bit. And now I've got a Master's Degree. *rolls eyes*
LW: I took as many honors courses as were permitted and wouldn't settle for anything less than an A. My mom didn't push me like Patti's parents. I pushed myself. I have always been a perfectionist and a knowledge seeker.
HWM: My experience was similar to Patti's in some respects. Korean parents and academics usually equals pressure. At least that was my experience. But I find the pressure, for most teens, has probably intensified over the years since I was in high school. There was a population explosion which probably means the numbers of teens applying to college increased. Plus, there are a lot of smart and talented teens out there -- sports, music, philanthropist, theatre, singing, volunteer work, entrepreneur, etc. There are teens that have accomplished so much that I can only imagine they have raised the bar for what college admissions see. Plus, the sports. Did you see all the teenage elite athletes out in the Olympics?
Lorie Ann: I was driven like Patti in high school, but like Little Willow, not by my parents. They never focused on my achieving an end. I did.
LW: Do you all feel as though this story will stand the test of time? I think it will. The situations Patti finds herself in and the embarrassments and pressures she experiences are timeless: parental pressure, schoolwork, first crush, etc.
HWM: This is definitely a story that will stand the test of time.
Lorie Ann: Oh, yes. The example of thinking for yourself, discovering what you truly want, and communicating that to others, even your parents, is timeless. *applauds Paula*
LW: Do any of you play musical instruments? Did any of you play in your school band?
Lorie Ann: I always wanted to play an instrument. Ballet took my entire focus though. I hung out with band geeks all through high school. Then my oldest daughter played flute for 8 years with the band and became drum major. I loved every minute that I shared in her experience.
HWM: I played piano and violin. I am amused with this books since my musical experience is somewhat similar to Patti's. I competed in All State Music Competitions for violin, won a music scholarship, tutored younger kids in violin, played in the pit orchestra of all our musical shows, thought about studying to become a concert violinist, and was first chair in the orchestra until my senior year -- when I became second chair -- because my music teacher knew I was burned out and my heart wasn't in it.
LW: I can play piano and flute. I learned flute through a course offered in elementary school, but we didn't have a band there or then. I played flute in my middle school band as well as a community band.
Jackie: I played trombone from 5th grade through my sophomore year in college. I participated in Marching Band, Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Pep Band, Musicals (on stage, not the pit), Jazz Band, Vocal Jazz, and Choral. I was a total band geek. And so were most of my friends. We had so much fun.
LW: What do you have in common with Patti? I share her drive, her desire to excel, and her respect for both creative and intellectual pursuits.
Lorie Ann: I have her drive also, Little Willow. I share her respect for her parents. I know the feeling of losing yourself in your art as Patti does.
LW: Patti's mother loves to cook with SPAM. Do you like SPAM? I don't. I'm a vegetarian!
Jackie: My Dad does, so I had my share of fried SPAM in my youth. It's just really salty. Sometimes I'm tempted to hold a dinner party planned exclusively around the SPAM recipes that show up on the Gmail banner when I delete my spam folder. But then I remember that most of my friends are veggies.
Lorie Ann: I haven't had SPAM since my childhood, but I was tempted to buy a can after reading the novel. It's funny that I lived in Korea for a year and never came across SPAM!
LW: You could always use the book group-slash-party ideas Paula shared in the issue!
HWM: The SPAM segments in this book were amusing. I never knew SPAM was so versatile in Korean food. My mom sliced it thin and fried the pieces for breakfast. So instead of bacon or ham, we'd have fried SPAM and egg, which if I remember was good.
Lorie Ann: Yes! That's how my mother made it, too.
LW: How is your family or culture like Patti's? How did her culture inform her character? How does yours?
Jackie: I don't recall my family ever pressuring me to do anything (other than maybe cleaning my room...). My mom just wants me to be happy, and however I need(ed) to achieve that is cool with her, which is probably why we've got such a great relationship -- and probably why I'm a second generation librarian.
HWM: You're lucky, Jackie. I can't imagine a childhood without the pressure. The parental pressure for academics was forefront in my life. I never understood it then, but now, I can see where my parents were coming from. For my parents, and perhaps for many immigrant parents who experienced childhood during political struggles and war, a better life is what drove them to work hard and to dream big dreams for their children. Academic excellence was hand-in-hand to my parents' idea of the American dream of success -- a well-respected career, beautiful home and car, loving family -- and it all equaled happiness, security, stability and hope. My parents have mellowed down over the years. I rebelled too much against their ideals and they finally got that I needed to find my own success and happiness, my way. It's been quite the road to self-discovery.
Lorie Ann: Patti's culture definitely formed her character. She came away with an amazing focus and strength to speak her mind respectfully to her parents. My family never pressured me to achieve an end. The only thing required was to work hard at whatever I put my hand to. Whatever I chose needed to receive my full effort. I'm so thankful for that emphasis!
LW: I was raised by an amazing single mother and older sister. They have always believed in me, and still support my dreams to this day. I'm glad to say that I feel confident and comfortable most of the time. When I'm on stage and performing, or simply talking to people in real life, or even just walking down the street, I'm generally in a good mood. When do you feel the most self-confident? The happiest?
Jackie: I'm happiest when I'm with the people I love - the most self-confident, too. Which proves to me that your personal life IS more important than your professional life.
HWM: I'm at my most self-confident when I do things well and feel good about myself. I'm happiest when I'm with my family, watch my children grow, and write.
Lorie Ann: I'm most comfortable and confident when I'm laughing with my family or a group of friends. Whether they are around me physically or actually in a wonderful book like Good Enough.
We hope this roundtable discussion has piqued your interest, and will encourage you to give Good Enough a peak! Check out the corresponding issue of readergirlz, read the book, and join us at the readergirlz forum to discuss Good Enough even further.
Read my review of Good Enough by Paula Yoo.