Thursday, April 01, 2010

Paper Trail: Paper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold

In a notebook so new the last pages were blank, Dad had written, "Progress on family project, finally? Possible search will end right here! Give mail a week, then fly CA."

I flipped to the next page. "The trouble with small deceits is that the poet was right: they do become tangled webs. And you can't foresee who will become ensnared in them or who will be hurt if you tear back through to the truth."

I felt guilty reading thoughts that Dad had obviously written only for himself. But I told myself that maybe he'd have wanted me to read his notes now. They were probably the last things I'd ever learn directly from him. Things and ideas that maybe he'd intended to tell me about one day. Or explain....

Before Maggie stumbles upon a strange entry in her reporter father's notebook, there are no mysteries in her life. Still grieving for her father, who died in an unsolved hit-and-run incident in Chinatown, Maggie at least thinks she knows who she is. Chinese-American, yes, but her family history in America goes back, as she puts it, "millions of generations." Her dad, a noted reporter, was a graduate of a prestigious prep and graduate school whose wealthy parents died early somewhere on the east coast, and her mom is just a mom, trying to work her way out of the grief and shock of her loved husband's sudden death.

But when Maggie starts her summer internship at a local newspaper, hoping to follow in her father's footsteps, an investigation of local political crime uncovers a apparent connection with her father, who died at the same time and in the same neighborhood as a prime suspect, a victim of a drive-by shooting obviously meant to silence him. When her mom mentions that her dad's supposed prep school has no record of his ever attending, Maggie follows up with calls to her dad's college friend and learns that, far from being a privileged preppie, Steven Chen was a penniless scholarship student who worked his way through Columbia. With this knowledge, Maggie begins to question everything she knows about the father she so admired and realizes that if there is a story behind her father's deception, it is up to her to search it out and perhaps clear his name.

Part mystery, part historical fiction, part coming-of-age story, Jeanette Ingold's Paper Daughter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) gives the reader insight into the journalistic process as Maggie and her mentor follow leads in the corruption story which ultimately help her to uncover her father's real story and a great-grandfather she never knew, a "paper son" whose desire to save his sister led them to immigrate to Seattle in 1932 as supposed children of a legal resident.

It is a hard choice to follow the truth where it may lead. Maggie knows that what she learns will change everything she has believed to be true about her father and her family's history. But inside her is that part of her father which urges her to pursue the truth to its conclusion.

I could do it--could leave--as easily as I'd torn up the notebook page where Dad had written "Progress on family project, finally?"

Or this time I could choose to look beyond to the truths of people I knew and people I didn't. It was what Dad would have expected of his daughter and the way I would like to think of myself.

In Paper Daughter author Jeanette Ingold skillfully interweaves parallel narratives as she tells the story of Maggie's search and the historical story of how her father was separated from his immigrant birth family, bringing Maggie full circle to a reunion with her full identity.

Ingold is also the author of the Christopher Award-winning novel Hitch, which like her latest takes her readers back in history and inside the life of a young man in the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression.

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