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Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim

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A multicultural teen struggles to fit into her elite prep school, her diverse Queens neighborhood, and even her own home. A hilarious, poignant, and powerful YA novel from the award-winning author of Re Jane.

“Simply brilliant!” —David Yoon, New York Times best-selling author of FRANKLY IN LOVE
“Scathingly funny.” —Gayle Forman, New York Times best-selling author of IF I STAY
Alejandra Kim feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere.

Not at home, where Ale faces tense silence from Ma since Papi’s passing. Not in Jackson Heights, where she isn’t considered Latinx enough and is seen as too PC for her own good. Certainly not at her Manhattan prep school, where her predominantly white classmates pride themselves on being “woke”. She only has to survive her senior year before she can escape to the prestigious Whyder College, if she can get in. Maybe there, Ale will finally find a place to call her own.

The only problem with laying low— a microaggression thrusts Ale into the spotlight and into the middle of a discussion she didn’t ask for. But her usual keeping her head down tactic isn’t going to make this go away. With her signature wit and snark, Ale faces what she’s been hiding from. In the process, she might discover what it truly means to carve out a space for yourself to belong.

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim is an incisive, laugh-out-loud, provocative read about feeling like a misfit caught between very different worlds, what it means to be belong, and what it takes to build a future for yourself.
© Matthew Gilbertson
Patricia Park is a tenured professor of creative writing at American University, a Fulbright Scholar in Creative Arts, and a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow. Her debut YA novel, Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal and was an NPR Book of the Day. Her acclaimed adult novel Re Jane was named an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review; the winner of an American Library Association award; an O, The Oprah Magazine pick; and an NPR Fresh Air pick, among other honors. What’s Eating Jackie Oh? is inspired byher love of watching competitive TV cooking shows and creating somewhat edible meals from leftovers. It was also inspired by Patricia’s New York Times op-ed, “I’m Done Being Your Model Minority.”Patricia’s writing has also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Guardian, Salon, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York View titles by Patricia Park
Part I

Chapter 1

Origin Story

When you have a name like Alejandra Kim, teachers always stare at you like you’re a typo on the attendance sheet. Each school year, without fail, they look at my face and the roster and back again, like they can’t compute my súper-­Korean face and my súper-­Spanish first name. Multiply that by eight different teachers for eight periods a day, and boom: welcome to my life at Quaker Oats Prep.

I mean, Alejandra is like the “Jessica” of Spanish girl names—­basic as all hell. It’s not like my parents named me Hermenegilda or Xóchitl. And yet people still find a million and one ways to butcher my name. I’ve been called:

1.    Alley-­JOHN-­druh

Mr. Landibadeau, our college guidance counselor, who apparently never took Spanish 101. (Hello, the “j” is pronounced like an “h.”)

2.    Alexandra

Mr. Schwartz, sophomore year, who ironically “Ellis Islanded” me even though he teaches US history.

3.    Ah-­leh-­CHHHHHAN-­durah!

Ms. Sanders, junior year physics. Technically this is correct—­the third syllable is pronounced like the “Chan” in “Chanukah.” (Hanukah? Hanukkah? You get my point.) But Ms. Sanders was trying so hard to sound muy auténtica, which was almost as bad as if she’d just Ellis Islanded my name in the first place. You know, like those annoying people who go to a bodega and order a “CWAH-­sson,” when the rest of us commoners just say, “cruh-­SAHNT.”

But if you’re the one ordering croissants from a corner bodega, that’s the least of your pretentious problems.

For the record, I just pronounce it “Ah-­lay-­HAHN-­druh.” But I usually tell people to call me “Ally.” I say it the easy gringo way: “Alley.” As in, alley cat, alleyway, back-­alley. That’s what everyone at Quaker Oats Prep calls me.

Our school’s not actually named Quaker Oats. It’s officially Anne Austere Preparatory School, named after a Quaker from the 1600s who was literally burned at the stake for trying to better humanity. But everyone just calls us Quaker Oats. We’re not like Brearley or Chapin or Dalton. We’re more “progressive” (read: “hippie” and “weirdo”). We’re like the minor leagues for the big Quaker colleges like Whyder and Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. Laurel Greenblatt-­Watkins, my first and best friend here, says we’re a hotbed of granola crunchiness in the middle of Chinatown. I don’t know what to think. I’m just a scholarship kid (90 percent). And Ma never lets me forget about that 10 percent we owe each year.

Back in my neighborhood in Queens, they call me “Ale.” Except when Ma gets súper pissed, then it’s all, “Alejandra Verónica Kim, ¡andate a tu cuarto!”

Papi always used to call me “Aleja-­ya.”

If I were Dominican or Puerto Rican or Colombian or Mexican, then at least I’d have some solidarity in New York with “mi gente,” my people. Which might sound vaguely racist, but it is what it is. But my parents are Argentine, and there aren’t a whole lot of us here. Both sets of my parents’ parents were Korean immigrants who were aiming for America-­North back in the day but washed up in America-­South.

Sidebar: the Korean name for America is Mi-­Guk—­Beautiful-­Country. For South America, it’s Nam-­Mi—­South-­of-­Beautiful. Which is all kinds of linguistically fucked up.

It sounds random, how a bunch of Koreans ended up in Argentina. The short answer is immigrant labor exploitation. They were sent over to farm and “populate” Patagonia, but the land was basically a barren desert. The Koreans were like, yeah, nope, and hightailed it to Buenos Aires, where they settled in a villa miseria called Baekgu and sewed clothes all day.

Every time I get upset about something first-­world, like how they forgot the ketchup packet with my fries, I have to stop myself and remember: Papi grew up in literal miseryville. He worked in a sweatshop, forced into child labor by his own parents.

That’s what happens when you’re the kid of immigrants: your whole life is one big guilt trip.

Nothing about my family is “normal.” Not even the Spanish we speak, which is all weird and Porteño—­aka Buenaryan. Apparently there’s a hierarchy within the Latinx community, where everyone thinks Argentines are snobby, white European wannabes looking down their noses at the rest of Latin America with their hoity-­toity accents and weirder verb conjugations and stubborn refusal to use normal words like “tú”—­you. Instead Argentines say “vos,” which was súper trending in Spain in the 1500s but has since fallen the way of the pay phone and the postage stamp.

Also, Argentines use the word “che”—­hey—­a lot, which is how Ernesto Guevara got his nickname.

Anyway, Ma and Papi knew each other as kids back in Baekgu, but they re-­met here in New York as adults, and the rest, as they say, is historia.

Che, that was exhausting. What’s kind of annoying is how people—­adults especially—­always expect you to lead with your Origin Story like you’re in a Marvel comic, sans the superpowers. Like, ooh, tell me the exotic story behind your name/face/race/peoples. Walk me through that radioactive spider bite that transformed you into the Super Freak you are today. (Peter Parker, by the way, is also from Queens.)

I am 94.7 percent sure they wouldn’t do that if I looked like my ancestors had stepped off the Mayflower.

Discussion Guide for Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

  • SELECTION | 2024
    TAYSHAS Reading List
★ “Park’s work paints an educational but entertaining portrait of what it is like to be a person of color in today’s world.... [A] fantastic read.” —School Library Journal, starred review

★ “[An] entertaining, well-paced story…. Ale is a thoroughly appealing protagonist.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Alejandra’s powerful story will leave readers with much to think about.” —The Horn Book  

"This humor-infused tale poignantly captures one teenager’s experience learning to stand up for what she believes in.” —Publishers Weekly    

"This is a powerful debut YA novel." -Buzzfeed News

“Hilarious, whip-smart, and refreshingly honest—this novel is simply brilliant.”
Brendan Kiely, coauthor of the New York Times bestselling All American Boys

“An authentically funny, honest, and real portrayal of the fight to be seen. Magnificent.”
Ellen Oh, award-winning author of Finding Junie Kim

“Will give readers the courage to truly define ‘imposter’ and to smash those definitions that no longer serve us.”
Jennifer de Leon, author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

“The joys and travails of Alejandra Kim at ‘Quaker Oats Prep’ made me laugh one moment and cry the next. . . .I loved this novel!”
Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Finding My Voice and Hurt You

"Imposter Syndrome is funny and moving, wonderfully earnest and slyly satirical, and an absolute pleasure to read."
-Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times bestselling author of Dreyer's English

About

A multicultural teen struggles to fit into her elite prep school, her diverse Queens neighborhood, and even her own home. A hilarious, poignant, and powerful YA novel from the award-winning author of Re Jane.

“Simply brilliant!” —David Yoon, New York Times best-selling author of FRANKLY IN LOVE
“Scathingly funny.” —Gayle Forman, New York Times best-selling author of IF I STAY
Alejandra Kim feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere.

Not at home, where Ale faces tense silence from Ma since Papi’s passing. Not in Jackson Heights, where she isn’t considered Latinx enough and is seen as too PC for her own good. Certainly not at her Manhattan prep school, where her predominantly white classmates pride themselves on being “woke”. She only has to survive her senior year before she can escape to the prestigious Whyder College, if she can get in. Maybe there, Ale will finally find a place to call her own.

The only problem with laying low— a microaggression thrusts Ale into the spotlight and into the middle of a discussion she didn’t ask for. But her usual keeping her head down tactic isn’t going to make this go away. With her signature wit and snark, Ale faces what she’s been hiding from. In the process, she might discover what it truly means to carve out a space for yourself to belong.

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim is an incisive, laugh-out-loud, provocative read about feeling like a misfit caught between very different worlds, what it means to be belong, and what it takes to build a future for yourself.

Author

© Matthew Gilbertson
Patricia Park is a tenured professor of creative writing at American University, a Fulbright Scholar in Creative Arts, and a Jerome Hill Artist Fellow. Her debut YA novel, Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal and was an NPR Book of the Day. Her acclaimed adult novel Re Jane was named an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review; the winner of an American Library Association award; an O, The Oprah Magazine pick; and an NPR Fresh Air pick, among other honors. What’s Eating Jackie Oh? is inspired byher love of watching competitive TV cooking shows and creating somewhat edible meals from leftovers. It was also inspired by Patricia’s New York Times op-ed, “I’m Done Being Your Model Minority.”Patricia’s writing has also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Guardian, Salon, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York View titles by Patricia Park

Excerpt

Part I

Chapter 1

Origin Story

When you have a name like Alejandra Kim, teachers always stare at you like you’re a typo on the attendance sheet. Each school year, without fail, they look at my face and the roster and back again, like they can’t compute my súper-­Korean face and my súper-­Spanish first name. Multiply that by eight different teachers for eight periods a day, and boom: welcome to my life at Quaker Oats Prep.

I mean, Alejandra is like the “Jessica” of Spanish girl names—­basic as all hell. It’s not like my parents named me Hermenegilda or Xóchitl. And yet people still find a million and one ways to butcher my name. I’ve been called:

1.    Alley-­JOHN-­druh

Mr. Landibadeau, our college guidance counselor, who apparently never took Spanish 101. (Hello, the “j” is pronounced like an “h.”)

2.    Alexandra

Mr. Schwartz, sophomore year, who ironically “Ellis Islanded” me even though he teaches US history.

3.    Ah-­leh-­CHHHHHAN-­durah!

Ms. Sanders, junior year physics. Technically this is correct—­the third syllable is pronounced like the “Chan” in “Chanukah.” (Hanukah? Hanukkah? You get my point.) But Ms. Sanders was trying so hard to sound muy auténtica, which was almost as bad as if she’d just Ellis Islanded my name in the first place. You know, like those annoying people who go to a bodega and order a “CWAH-­sson,” when the rest of us commoners just say, “cruh-­SAHNT.”

But if you’re the one ordering croissants from a corner bodega, that’s the least of your pretentious problems.

For the record, I just pronounce it “Ah-­lay-­HAHN-­druh.” But I usually tell people to call me “Ally.” I say it the easy gringo way: “Alley.” As in, alley cat, alleyway, back-­alley. That’s what everyone at Quaker Oats Prep calls me.

Our school’s not actually named Quaker Oats. It’s officially Anne Austere Preparatory School, named after a Quaker from the 1600s who was literally burned at the stake for trying to better humanity. But everyone just calls us Quaker Oats. We’re not like Brearley or Chapin or Dalton. We’re more “progressive” (read: “hippie” and “weirdo”). We’re like the minor leagues for the big Quaker colleges like Whyder and Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. Laurel Greenblatt-­Watkins, my first and best friend here, says we’re a hotbed of granola crunchiness in the middle of Chinatown. I don’t know what to think. I’m just a scholarship kid (90 percent). And Ma never lets me forget about that 10 percent we owe each year.

Back in my neighborhood in Queens, they call me “Ale.” Except when Ma gets súper pissed, then it’s all, “Alejandra Verónica Kim, ¡andate a tu cuarto!”

Papi always used to call me “Aleja-­ya.”

If I were Dominican or Puerto Rican or Colombian or Mexican, then at least I’d have some solidarity in New York with “mi gente,” my people. Which might sound vaguely racist, but it is what it is. But my parents are Argentine, and there aren’t a whole lot of us here. Both sets of my parents’ parents were Korean immigrants who were aiming for America-­North back in the day but washed up in America-­South.

Sidebar: the Korean name for America is Mi-­Guk—­Beautiful-­Country. For South America, it’s Nam-­Mi—­South-­of-­Beautiful. Which is all kinds of linguistically fucked up.

It sounds random, how a bunch of Koreans ended up in Argentina. The short answer is immigrant labor exploitation. They were sent over to farm and “populate” Patagonia, but the land was basically a barren desert. The Koreans were like, yeah, nope, and hightailed it to Buenos Aires, where they settled in a villa miseria called Baekgu and sewed clothes all day.

Every time I get upset about something first-­world, like how they forgot the ketchup packet with my fries, I have to stop myself and remember: Papi grew up in literal miseryville. He worked in a sweatshop, forced into child labor by his own parents.

That’s what happens when you’re the kid of immigrants: your whole life is one big guilt trip.

Nothing about my family is “normal.” Not even the Spanish we speak, which is all weird and Porteño—­aka Buenaryan. Apparently there’s a hierarchy within the Latinx community, where everyone thinks Argentines are snobby, white European wannabes looking down their noses at the rest of Latin America with their hoity-­toity accents and weirder verb conjugations and stubborn refusal to use normal words like “tú”—­you. Instead Argentines say “vos,” which was súper trending in Spain in the 1500s but has since fallen the way of the pay phone and the postage stamp.

Also, Argentines use the word “che”—­hey—­a lot, which is how Ernesto Guevara got his nickname.

Anyway, Ma and Papi knew each other as kids back in Baekgu, but they re-­met here in New York as adults, and the rest, as they say, is historia.

Che, that was exhausting. What’s kind of annoying is how people—­adults especially—­always expect you to lead with your Origin Story like you’re in a Marvel comic, sans the superpowers. Like, ooh, tell me the exotic story behind your name/face/race/peoples. Walk me through that radioactive spider bite that transformed you into the Super Freak you are today. (Peter Parker, by the way, is also from Queens.)

I am 94.7 percent sure they wouldn’t do that if I looked like my ancestors had stepped off the Mayflower.

Guides

Discussion Guide for Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Awards

  • SELECTION | 2024
    TAYSHAS Reading List

Praise

★ “Park’s work paints an educational but entertaining portrait of what it is like to be a person of color in today’s world.... [A] fantastic read.” —School Library Journal, starred review

★ “[An] entertaining, well-paced story…. Ale is a thoroughly appealing protagonist.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Alejandra’s powerful story will leave readers with much to think about.” —The Horn Book  

"This humor-infused tale poignantly captures one teenager’s experience learning to stand up for what she believes in.” —Publishers Weekly    

"This is a powerful debut YA novel." -Buzzfeed News

“Hilarious, whip-smart, and refreshingly honest—this novel is simply brilliant.”
Brendan Kiely, coauthor of the New York Times bestselling All American Boys

“An authentically funny, honest, and real portrayal of the fight to be seen. Magnificent.”
Ellen Oh, award-winning author of Finding Junie Kim

“Will give readers the courage to truly define ‘imposter’ and to smash those definitions that no longer serve us.”
Jennifer de Leon, author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

“The joys and travails of Alejandra Kim at ‘Quaker Oats Prep’ made me laugh one moment and cry the next. . . .I loved this novel!”
Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Finding My Voice and Hurt You

"Imposter Syndrome is funny and moving, wonderfully earnest and slyly satirical, and an absolute pleasure to read."
-Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times bestselling author of Dreyer's English

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