Turning the Corner | Critical Book Review

A Deeper Look at Fifth Grade Trials

Ruozhen Ma’s “Turning the Corner” takes us on a journey through the trials and tribulations of a Chinese American girl’s fifth-grade experiences. In this review, we delve into the insights and emotions that Ma brings to life in this indie middle-grade novel.

A Child’s Wisdom Beyond Her Years

At less than twelve years old, Ruozhen Ma exhibits a charm and wisdom in her writing that belie her age. Her portrayal of a young girl’s inner struggles resonates deeply:

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I haven’t discovered my talent and interest yet. I feel like I am digging in the dark tunnel and constantly bumping into tree roots.”


The Trials of Fifth Grade

Fifth grade is a pivotal year, marking the transition from childhood to adolescence, from the comfort of elementary school to the challenges of middle school. In the wake of the pandemic’s isolation, this transition becomes even more daunting. Ruozhen Ma, being the same age as her characters, offers an intimate and authentic perspective in “Turning the Corner.”


The Quest for Talent

Ruozhen, driven by her diligent parents, excels in various pursuits like piano, swimming, and writing. Yet, she can’t shake the feeling of inadequacy compared to her peers:

“But the problem is, I’m also very hardworking! I worked hard on Chinese, math, piano, and swimming from a young age. Why am I not that good? I guess that’s probably because I really don’t have talent for these things. Where is my talent?”


The Year of the Tiger

2022 marks Ruozhen’s zodiac year, the Year of the Tiger, accompanied by a year’s supply of lucky red underwear from her mother. With the support of her family and friends, Orange and Olive, Ruozhen embarks on a journey to win the school writing contest, overcome the embarrassment of choosing an opposite-gender partner for a class project, and select the perfect elective for her first year in middle school.


Exploring Emotions and Imagery

Ma’s writing is deeply introspective, focusing on her emotional responses rather than the events themselves. Her prose is lyrical and rich with imagery, reflecting her success in poetry writing. She grapples with profound questions about personal success and the pursuit of meaningful endeavors:

“Suddenly, I hear something inside of me. A tiger’s roar, and a flaming wall of fire, ready to explode. I am surprised; I have never known it was there until now, so strong and clear.”


The Power of Creative Metaphor

Ruozhen Ma exhibits a talent for creative metaphor and similes. However, there’s room for her writing to delve deeper into these vivid comparisons. For instance, when likening puberty to a “lava monster” or the feeling of being ostracized to “a plastic bird in a flock of peacocks,” she sometimes leaves the imagery underdeveloped. Expanding and playing with these metaphors could elevate her writing even further.


An Authentic Perspective on Elementary School

“Turning the Corner” is a book for kids, written by a kid. Ma’s close connection to her source material allows her to provide an authentic and entertaining perspective on the challenges of elementary school. This book is highly recommended for elementary school students preparing to transition to middle school.


In “Turning the Corner,” Ruozhen Ma shines a light on the tumultuous journey of a Chinese American girl through the trials of fifth grade. Her honest and intimate writing style offers readers a glimpse into the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence. This indie middle-grade novel is a must-read for young readers and those seeking a fresh perspective on the challenges of growing up.

Modern Book Details:

PublisherGenrePrint LengthISBN
IndieBookViewMiddle Grade Fiction / Asian & Asian American Literature171 pages979-8986913605

A Deeper Look at Fifth Grade Trials Ruozhen Ma’s “Turning the Corner” takes us on a journey through the trials and tribulations of a Chinese American girl’s fifth-grade experiences. In this review, we delve into the insights and emotions that Ma brings to life in this indie middle-grade novel. A Child’s Wisdom Beyond Her Years…