One of the endearing qualities of Jennifer Chow’s books is the realism she infuses in her fiction. Even though Mimi Lee’s cat, Marshmallow, talks to her (and often snidely), Jennifer brings to the page real dilemmas that plague our new world. Like the well-meaning principal of the elementary school where Alice, Mimi’s sister, teaches—he’s physically affectionate, in an old-school way, but lawsuits happen, and he must learn to change his ways in a new world even if his intentions were good.
But maybe that’s one of the appeals—the multicultural aspects Jennifer shows in her novels that blend the old with the new. Like old recipes updated for modern use and ingredient availability—spam! Like the pet carriers Mimi features in her shop—the colors aren’t as beautiful, but they are now naturally derived from plants and are nontoxic. Compromises must be made to live in the new world.
Berkley released Mimi
Lee Reads Between the Lines yesterday. Ask Jennifer questions about this new release in the comments section. E. B. Davis
Is water such a problem that most apartment buildings have artificial turf rather than real grass in LA? What if there are dogs? Where do they “go?”
I feel like there’s a lot of water
conservation efforts in L.A. I’ve seen people replace front yards with
succulent gardens, but it really depends on the owner. Dogs still “go” on
artificial turf—it’s just that the cleanup can be messier.
What is “pulled tea,” also called teh tarik, the national drink of Malaysia, and why is it called that?
Teh tarik is a foamy milk tea (usually
black tea with condensed milk). It’s “pulled” because the beverage gets poured
back and forth between two pitchers at a great height, creating the “pulling”
effect and making the milk frothy.
Why do captive birds need their feathers trimmed? Is there something that happens in nature that eliminates the need?
Captive birds need their feathers
trimmed only so they don’t fly around too high and end up injuring themselves.
Birds in nature don’t need this because the sky is the limit for them.
What is Roti canai? Are there different types? What is served with it?
Roti canai is a type of flaky
Indian-inspired flatbread, usually served with a curry sauce. Roti comes in
multiple variations: with eggs, onions, cheese—even bananas.
Does everyone dye their pets’ fur? Or is this an LA thing?
Not usually, but some people like
making their pets more vibrant-looking or want them to resemble other animals (like
Marshmallow knows that the stray kitten found at school comes from the same lab he came from. Mimi names the kitten Nimbus and finds a chip on the kitten that is abnormal. The high frequency transmitter seems to have a way of amplifying the cats’ speech. Nimbus can also communicate somewhat like Marshmallow. Does Marshmallow have a chip, too?
I left Marshmallow with a more inherent
ability—his talent is all-natural.
What is Kaya? Is it breakfast or dessert?
Kaya is a type of coconut jam. It’s made with eggs, coconut, and caramel. Kaya is mostly spread on toast, so I’d consider it a breakfast item.
What is Rojak? Is it Malaysian?
Rojak is a (mainly spicy) salad made of
mixed fruits and vegetables. It has Indonesian origins.
Boba are chewy balls made from tapioca.
They’re often served in milk tea, offering both a chewing and drinking
experience at the same time.
Mimi and Alice’s Mom is depressed. Because their parents married on February 29, they don’t celebrate their anniversary every year. Alice takes charge of orchestrating a date night for her parents to help their mother. Does every female in the family want to matchmake? They seem overly involved in the others’ romantic lives.
Maybe it’s something that’s passed down? I think Mimi and Alice are also involved in their parents’ lives because they love them so much.
Alice turned down a nomination for Teacher of the Year because it brought too much attention to herself. Does Alice have a problem? Is she that bashful? What caused this problem?
Sometimes Alice hates being in the limelight. It feels like too much attention is focused on her. This may have something to do with a cultural inclination not to overly boast.
Why does rain cause delays on the highways in LA?
It’s because people aren’t used to
driving in the rain! Many folks will slow down a lot when there’s wetness on the roads. (The opposite also occurs,
though—people will drive just as fast as usual.)
Why does Mimi refrain from talking to Josh, her boyfriend, about her investigation into the death of the elementary teacher, Helen? On the last case, he assisted her.
She eventually does ask him for some
assistance. Mimi hesitates because Josh is such a stickler for rules—in her snooping,
she sometimes fudges the lines.
Fellow teacher, Amy, agrees to have the memorial service for Helen at her home. Why is the pathway to the front door strewn with dried beans?
The beans are meant to ward off evil
spirits. In Japan, there’s even a bean-throwing festival.
Why does Mimi feel awkward talking to Alice about sexual harassment?
Mimi feels awkward because they don’t discuss any details about their intimate lives at all in their family. It’s really hard for her to broach the subject.
What is a jiejie? And why is Mimi that to Alice?
Jiejie is the Chinese word for “older sister.” Mimi embraces her role as a protective big sis.
What is a mochi doughnut?
A mochi doughnut is a donut made from the mochi rice flour, which makes the treat less bread-like and provides a chewier texture.
Is Roscoe’s a real LA restaurant? Somehow chicken and waffles doesn’t sound like it would be fashionable in LA.
Roscoe’s is totally an establishment in Los Angeles. The popular chain started here in 1975. The fried chicken and waffle pairing is actually a soul food fave.
I didn’t have to do any dissecting until high school and that was bad. Now fifth graders have to dissect frogs? Can they handle it?
I dissected frogs in middle school, but
yes, I’ve seen elementary students involved in dissections. One of my kids even
dissected a squid for fun—and enjoyed it.
How can PB&J be fancy?
A PB&J sandwich can be elevated by
using exotic nut butters (e.g. espresso PB) and fancy jams (e.g. goji berry). Special
toppings, like orange zest, can also make it fancier.
What are Salvadorian pupusas? What type of fillings do they have?
A pupusa is a griddle cake made from corn masa flour. Fillings include meat, cheese, vegetables, and beans.
Is Coolhaus ice cream real?
Yes, it’s real. Coolhaus started in 2009, and one of the co-founders went to grad school at UCLA. It began as an ice cream truck but has since expanded to a few scoop shops. Coolhaus also distributes their products to grocery stores. The founders wanted to combine food and architecture (or “Farchitecture”), and Coolhaus specializes in premium ice cream (often named after architects) made with seasonal and high-quality ingredients.
You collect all things that are matcha. What is matcha?
Mostly food items. Matcha is a form of powdered green tea. It shows up in drinks, ice cream, and even Kit Kats.
What’s next for Mimi and Marshmallow?
Book 3 for Mimi and Marshmallow, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, should release in 2021 and involves the (usually) idyllic Catalina Island.