Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park;
Clarion Books: New York, 2oog; $16
“That’s great but what about here?” That’s the question I used to ask myself whenever my mom bragged about how well developed and strong and powerful Korea was. My parents were born and raised in Korea; I have lived in L.A. all my life. Often I wished that my parents would brag about America instead because that would be more useful to me.
This past October, my mom borrowed books from the library, just as she does every two weeks or so. I left Project Mulberry at the bottom of the pile because it didn’t sound interesting and the cover looked dull. I didn’t even know what Mulberry meant. Finally, after I had read through the other books, I picked up Project Mulberry and started to read it. I read five pages the first day and the rest of the book the second day I was so fascinated by the story that even my mom and dad’s favorite Korean soap opera, blaring on the TV with its characters always crying and shouting and fighting, didn’t distract me. The main character of Project Mulberry, Julia Song, was in almost the exact same cultural situation as I was. I really wanted to figure out how she solved the problem of juggling two cultures.
Julia Song, a seventh-grader who has just recently moved to Plainfield, Illinois, needs to find a project for the state fair. Julia’s Korean-born mom, whose own mom worked with silkworms, suggests a silkworm project. Patrick, Julia’s best friend, loves the idea but Julia thinks it is too Korean. She instead wants a more American project. Julia eventually gives in and throughout the book she gradually changes her attitude about the project, caring for it more and more. At the climax of the novel, Julia realizes she loves the silkworms and finds herself protecting them from being killed; the final step of the process requires the silkworms to be killed. Later, Patrick and Julia compromise and she allows Patrick and Julia’s mom to kill some of the silkworms for the project. Julia learns much more from this adventure than how to raise silkworms and make silk. When Julia decides to do the silkworm project, she accepts her heritage and stops fighting it. By the end of the story, Julia starts to ask questions about her family’s past and appreciates her background.
I realized it was useless to deny my background because I can’t change it. When Julia finds herself unexpectedly enjoying the project, I thought, I can do that too. Now I understand that being Korean adds to instead of detracts from my American identity. Finally, I am proud of my parents’ bragging about Korea. Finally I have stopped asking myself rhetorical questions and have really started listening to learn about the land of my ancestors. For anyone who is struggling as I was to bridge more than one culture, Project Mulberry provides unique insights and an enjoyable read.