Introduction & Overview of Finding My Voice

Marie G. Lee
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Finding My Voice Summary & Study Guide Description

Finding My Voice Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on Finding My Voice by Marie G. Lee.

Finding My Voice (1992) is a familiar American coming-of-age story from an unfamiliar perspective. In her debut novel, author Marie G. Lee, the American child of Korean immigrants, explores questions of belonging, pressure (from both parents and peers), and racism for a girl like herself in modern small-town America. Through her protagonist, Ellen Sung, Lee examines what it feels like to be an outsider and how the assimilation process started by immigrant parents is completed by their children. In this novel, Ellen must navigate the expectations of friends and family while trying to figure out who she is.

Finding My Voice reflects Lee's own experiences as a high school student and a member of the only Korean family, indeed the only family of color, in the small Minnesota town in which she was born and raised. The author admits to including autobiographical elements to the story but says the primary character, Ellen Sung, is fictional. In an autobiographical sketch published in the Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, Lee explained:

It wasn't me, but someone very much like me. Perhaps James Baldwin was right when he said that novelists always write their first novel about their own lives because they have years of accumulated gunk to get off their chest. Well, that's exactly what I did: I wrote my heart out.

The inspiration for Finding My Voice came from a time Lee drove with her father through a number of small towns in Minnesota on the way to go skiing. In one particular community, Lee observed two football players in their letterman jackets walking down the street, and she thought it would be interesting to write about such communities and the importance of the letter jacket.

In the story, Ellen's father wants her to go to Harvard, like her older sister, and become a doctor—his American dream of success. Throughout the novel, Ellen works on understanding her parents while defining herself and what success means to her, getting a boyfriend, and dealing with racism. Ellen shudders at the racist comments directed at her throughout the story, but she does next to nothing until the novel's end.

When cheerleader/star gymnast Marsha Randall's racial taunts lead to violence, Ellen finally stands up for herself. Over the course of the novel, Ellen becomes more self-confident and sure of some of the choices she is making as an individual. She does not let the physical scars from Marsha's attack deter her from leaving her Minnesota hometown, seeing the larger world, and going to Harvard.

Kirkus Reviews endorsed the book, finding that Finding My Voice "is filled with searing truths about day-to-day racism…. Honestly rendered, and never didactic, the story allows readers first to flinch in recognition, and then to look into their own hearts."

Finding My Voice won the Best Book Award from the Friends of American Writers. The young adult novel also received several other honors such as being named the Best Book for Reluctant Readers by the American Library Association in 1992 and a Children's Choice citation by the International Reading Association in 1994.

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This section contains 514 words
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