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Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  326 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race.

Listen in as ten YA authors -- some familiar, some new -- use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Candlewick Press
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Francesca Forrest
Apr 24, 2014 Francesca Forrest rated it it was amazing
This is actually a very slim book; the ten selections are each quite short, so it's best enjoyed as tiny tastes. In that mode it works very well. Each piece had pleasing and unique element in it that contributed to the theme of life between cultures. Here's a peek at my favorite moments in each:

David Yoo: "Becoming Henry Lee." I laughed out loud when titular character's parents couldn't keep straight the white actors in a movie and "were convinced the movie was a psychological thriller about on
Liza Wiemer
Jul 08, 2013 Liza Wiemer added it
Shelves: arc, ala
Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices had me smiling and nodding and understanding about how we can get caught up in stereotypes and label people, which cause pain for those who are in the middle of it all. It made me think of my own stories and how one of my most favorite things to do is to talk to strangers (safely and often to the chagrin of my young adult children) to learn more about their cultures and, most importantly, the individual.
Some of my most fascinating conversat
Oct 11, 2013 Crystalee rated it it was amazing
Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Edited by Mitali Perkins
Published on September 10, 2013
Published by Candlewick Press
Source: Net Galley

Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race.

Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a soug
This is a Goodreads December book club title and each of the ten stories by YA authors who have lived between cultures (Mitali Perkins, Varian Johnson, G. Neri and Francisco X. Stork, to name a few) and have penned mainly stories with humor to give readers their multicultural view of the world. As I read the verse story, Under Berlin by G. Neri, I was constantly surprised by her father as they stood in a crowded train filled with white Germans and their black father and Hispanic mother. It was a ...more
Dec 10, 2013 Lindsey rated it really liked it
A very quick read!

My favorites in this slim anthology of multicultural voices were

"Becoming Henry Lee"--Henry Lee fights Asian stereotypes then embraces them. In the end, he finds himself.

"Voila"--A Haitian American teen waits with her Aunt in the doctor's office and runs into some kids from her school volunteering to help the poor.

"Three-Pointer"--Three sisters develop a point system related to the attention and affection boys give them. The youngest has difficulty getting three points because
Karly Grice
Mar 29, 2014 Karly Grice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book and can't say enough about it (so my short review won't do it justice). This collection of various short pieces was a great read written by some of the best YA authors of color today. If you read nothing else in it, take the time to read editor Mitali Perkins's introduction to the piece which is great for taking out and using for class discussions. My only complaint about the book is that I wanted more! It was short but compelling (and probably as a result perfect for the ...more
Rachel Hong
Feb 12, 2016 Rachel Hong rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it
Open Mic is an amazing collection of voices that uses humor to talk about life between cultures. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is because I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to hear more voices and read more cross-cultural celebrations. I REALLY hope this becomes a series. The world needs more stories that use humor to bridge the cultural divide.
Jen Doucette
Jul 26, 2015 Jen Doucette rated it liked it
Simple collection of stories geared to young adults. I liked the variety in genres and the transparency of the method. I was looking for potential mentor texts for my writing classes, and I found a good one in the poem "Under Berlin" about an African American/ Hispanic family living in Berlin.
Carolyn Wilhelm
Dec 02, 2013 Carolyn Wilhelm rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book which uses appropriate humor of several authors expressing how racism feels. We need more books like this one. For middle-secondary students. Great discussion starters.
As Mitali Perkins observes in her “Introduction,” “humor has the power to break down barriers and cross borders. Once you’ve shared a laugh with someone, it’s almost impossible to see them as ‘other’” (x). Open Mic wants to tap into this power, employing ten gifted humorists to talk about growing up between cultures. There are prose and poems (x2) and a comic by Gene Luen Yang (ABC Chinese, Boxers & Saints), and even the comedic stylings vary so Perkins does a great job preparing for a broad ...more
Joyce Yattoni
Oct 29, 2016 Joyce Yattoni rated it really liked it
Short essays from multicultural authors describing what it was like to grow up in a world where differences are not always perceived as welcoming. This book made me uncomfortable, mostly because I don't spend much time in understanding cultural differences. I just assume that if I respect people of all cultures that is good. Is it enough? This book also made me think more purposely about my own implicit bias.
Nicole Gas
Dec 01, 2016 Nicole Gas rated it it was amazing
I adored this- going to use so many of these short stories in my genre study next year!
Sep 29, 2016 Szyny rated it it was ok
The stories at the beginning and ending are good which give us lessons. I like the stories about the Korean guy and Germany. Besides that, nothing very interesting.
Lori Nakagawa
Sep 24, 2016 Lori Nakagawa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya, societal-issues
Loved this collection of short stories focusing on what life is like between cultures and some of the cultural misunderstandings that occur on a seemingly daily basis. My favorites were "Becoming Henry Lee" by David Woo and "Talent Show" by Cherry Cheva. The humor is helpful in dealing with topics that can be awkward.
If you think racism doesn't exist, then you aren't aware of what's going on around you.

When you first meet someone, you immediately see there appearance. You can't wear your personality, your culture or your experiences on the outside. When people first look at me, they see a South Asian female.
I have gotten questions like:

"Why don't you wear a scarf thing on your head?"


I'm not Arabian, I'm Indian (there's actually an ocean in between the countries) and you can't assume every brown person is Mus
Review copy: Library

Open Mic provides glimpses into that territory of straddling two cultures. Ten different authors used a bit of humor, remembrances from their past, and their writing talent to create a unique collection of works that spoke to me in different ways. I appreciated that there were even a variety of forms. The book contains poetry, non-fiction, a comic, and short stories to show readers what it can be like to live between cultures.

At the very beginning, Mitali Perkins shares a few
Abby Robinson
Nov 17, 2015 Abby Robinson rated it it was amazing
Mitali Perkins, popular writer known best for the award-winning novel Bamboo People, "riffs on life between cultures in ten voices" in the book Open Mic. Mitali was born in Kolkata, India but grew up mainly in the United States. In these different stories, her and the other writers tell about what it was like to grow up in situations such as this. It was written not only to entertain, but to relate to those who also grew up like this and teach them an important theme.
There are many motifs and th
Lucy Reynolds
Mar 02, 2014 Lucy Reynolds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up in the library one day because I was just looking for a new book to read and with the title "Open Mic," I couldn't pass it up. I read the first few passages and was automatically hooked. The stories were funny, inspirational, emotional, and insightful.
Being a white person, I have never had to deal with cultural oppression. Reading short stories about the lives of people in different cultures in different areas of the world all at different stages of life, is like walking a mile
Harry Brake
Jul 06, 2013 Harry Brake rated it really liked it
With a title such as Open Mic, who could resist? This causes anticipation for our own Open Mic's again at ASF for the new year. Cracking open the first book of my ALA stash from 2013, if the books to follow will be this refreshing, eye-opening, and worthy of reading, I hit a old mine. I read a fellow Good Read's commentary the other day and seeing how he rated things, with a 5 being things you can't live without a 4 pretty hard to stop turning pages and put down, a three worthy of pulling off ...more
Rich in Color
Jul 26, 2013 Rich in Color rated it liked it
Shelves: issue
Take a moment to admire the cover. Go on. Cute, isn’t it?

Open Mic is an anthology with a colorful mix of stories in different mediums. Gene Luen Yang discusses the problematic casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender movie using comics to tell his story. G. Neri lays out a cultural map of Berlin using a blend of humor and free verse poetry to describe a multi-cultural family in a place not quite ready for diversity. Debbie Rigaud creates a snapshot of the relationship between Simone and her great-a
Amy Gonzalez
Being able to talk about race with a sense of humor requires sensitivity, intelligence, and a commitment to truth, all of which are in this collection of short fiction, memoir, and poetry.

My favorite of them all is a memoir piece by Mitali Perkins, called "Three-Pointer," which describes how Mitali and her sisters got educated in the "Guy Game" in America. In it she talks about how her and her sister gave each other points for guys asking them out, compliments, and a kiss. Mitali also talks abo
Shaeley Santiago
Dec 14, 2013 Shaeley Santiago rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories, verse, and even a graphic story are all connected through their exploration of race with an emphasis on humor. The first story, "Becoming Henry Lee" by David Yoo, was one of my favorites. A Korean student decides to live up to the stereotypes of classmates around him rather than trying to dispel their misunderstandings. Eventually, though, he finds himself. One quote I really liked from this story was Henry's realization that it wasn't just his classmates who ...more
Ms. Yingling
Jun 13, 2013 Ms. Yingling rated it liked it
This collection of ten stories from authors of various ethnicities was very interesting. I find it hard to review story collections without mentioning every single story, and some are always more interesting than others. David Yoo's Becoming Henry Lee was the stand out here, with descriptions of him first trying to be as non-Asian as possible, then deciding if he gave in to the stereotypes a little, he was freer to be himself. Perkins' own turn describing her experiences with multicultural ...more
People express themselves in many ways. What are some ways that you express yourself? Are you always expressing happiness or can you express other emotions in different ways? This book, Open Mic, is written by Mitali Perkins, but Mitali takes on the persona of ten different African American male voices. She tells ten different stories about hardships African American males might go through as adolescents. I'm going to read you the first one. I want you to be thinking about what form of ...more
Ten Young Adult authors serve up their thoughts on race and culture in their own inimitable styles, often with plenty of humor. I especially enjoyed "Becoming Henry Lee" by David Yoo, "Under Berlin" by G. Neri, and "Like Me" by Varian Johnson, but all of the contributions are certain to spark discussions among readers and even possibly provide starting points to discuss race matters. Often, while reading each story or poem, I asked myself about how each of us navigates life within and between ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Elaine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rainbow-reading
Ten stories from ten different authors all offer provocative peeks at life as a minority or some kind of difficult-to-define “other.” An Asian-American teen first attempts to be as non-Asian as possible in his all white school, until he realizes he’s more popular as uber-Asian – faking marital arts expertise and pidgin accent. A Hispanic boy tries to pave the way for the coming out of his non-gay brother but realizes it’s actually his own path. A Haitian grandmother is a patient patient at a ...more
Jan 27, 2015 Jackie rated it it was amazing
I loved this short, quick read - a collection of ten voices as the title suggests.

These voices speak to so many of my students, especially students of color. It was delightful to listen to these stories and imagine them seeing themselves in the pages, laughing at the embarrassment/angst of the teenage characters, but then rejoicing with them when they come to understand it all.

It is so hard for me to pick favorites, but I especially liked the ending of Confessions of a Black Geek and my favorit
Anna Randall
Dec 05, 2014 Anna Randall rated it really liked it
Although short, this book taught me a lot in very few pages. This book is about racism and culture, love and anger, and a lot of times hilarity. Race is a touchy subject to say the least, but this book somehow managed to talk about it in a classy, funny, and insightful way. And, get this, IT WASN'T WRITTEN BY WHITE PEOPLE.

Too often, I see that the only people asked to give an opinion on racism are white people. This is mostly on the news, but it kind of defeats the purpose of equal representati
Aug 12, 2016 Amitha rated it it was amazing
Blogged this review
I really wish I could hand this book to myself about 20 years ago. I found echoes of my own childhood experiences in every single one of these characters. I laughed, I cried, my heart went out to these kids and teens who were just figuring out who they were and whether they even liked themselves, never mind whether anyone else did. Mitali Perkins's foreword to the collection is spot on. Yes, I connected with some stories more than others, but I think that's natural with any s
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Mitali Perkins was born in Kolkata, India, and immigrated to the States when she was seven years old. She's written several books for young readers, including BAMBOO PEOPLE, RICKSHAW GIRL, MONSOON SUMMER, and SECRET KEEPER. She is also the editor of an anthology: OPEN MIC: RIFFS BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES. Mitali maintains a website ( and blog ( where she chats ...more
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“Good humor pokes fun at the powerful — not the weak.” 3 likes
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