Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)
Maya’s life has changed. When her grandmother, her Halmunee, shows up one day – disoriented with Alzheimer’s Disease – it begins to redefine Maya’s small family life. Her mother grows distant. Her friendships become strained. But soon, Maya’s Halmunee introduces her to the world of Korea cooking, and the literal memories that come with it. In a journey fit for the imagination, Maya discovers that she has the ability to witness the past – though not change it. What does her mother know about this? And can Maya balance this new secret with her day-to-day life?
In a story that takes you on a journey through family, Korean culture, and time, this heartwarming tale will delight all ages. As someone who has always enjoyed stories about my own family, I enjoyed watching Maya explore the different elements of her family’s past, uncovering pieces about herself by watching others. The connection that she and her Halmunee have, especially with food, is one that both adults and children will feel deep in their core.
In a way, I saw this book as a combination of Quantum Leap with Amy Tan’s writing (different ethnicity, of course, but some of the same messages about family and culture decorated in the pages). Written for a middle grade audience, Flora Ahn describes the time traveling process as one that children can understand: think of it as a movie theatre, viewing different shows, that can’t be altered. This simple explanation surpassed any complex description that time travel shows typically use, and it created a visual no doubt any person can interpret.
While all the hints were there along the way, I DID NOT expect that twist at the end. I honestly thought it was something else entirely (regarding Maya’s friend Jeff). But this twist definitely answered some of my questions: why was her mom so secretive? Where did Halmunee come from?
What it didn’t answer was where did Maya’s father go, but this might open up a realm of possibilities for an second book if the author desires.
My one hang up was the handling of the character Jeff. I really thought he was related to Maya in a more in depth way. While I was happy to have a twist thrown at me, it left this strange confusion about Jeff’s character. Why were he and Maya so connected? Was it just because their trees were close? While this is a possibility, it felt like there was so much more! Perhaps if a second book is written, Ahn will elaborate on this more.
Overall, The Golden Orchard is a fantastic tale of family history, relationships, and time travel…all dosed with a bit of Korean Flavor. It’s definitely worth the listen if you have a couple hours.
What’s it about?
Maya loves to cook with her grandmother – her Halmunee – to connect with the rich family history associated with each dish, a history Maya’s mom would prefer stayed in the past. While cooking with Halmunee, something remarkable happens – the food creates such a strong memory that Maya and Halmunee are transported back in time through the memory itself. Halmunee explains that the women in her family have the gift of time travel through food and Maya can do it too, if she practices. While eating her way through the past, Maya meets Jeff: another young time traveler who brings her to the Golden Orchard, a garden of memories filled with the trees of so many people’s lives. Maya learns that time moves in ways she couldn’t imagine and sometimes family keep their memories secret to protect the ones they love.