Happy Birthday or Whatever by Annie Choi
Section 1: Pages 1-43
Page by Page Summary
Annie imagines her best birthday ever- a very parade-like event with elephants and men juggling fire. As she continues to daydream, reality hits and on her 27th birthday, 8 out of the 12 people she invited to have a nice dinner with canceled, making the party very small and quiet, the opposite of what she wanted. The next day, Annie realizes she has no "Happy Birthday" messages from her parents. She assumes that they probably forgot, but since her parents' anniversary is the day after her birthday she calls her mom to wish her a happy anniversary. Mom is unaware that her anniversary is today and tries to convince Annie that it is in September, along with Annie’s birthday, but Annie proves her Mom wrong by reading off information on her ID card. Mom feels bad, but Annie feels more guilty about making her mom feel bad, so she apologizes and then they hang up. Soon thereafter, Annie calls her Dad, who is a metallurgical chemist. He immediately wishes her a “Happy Birthday”, but Annie knows it’s because her mom just told him. Two weeks later, it is her father’s birthday, so she calls her mom to remind her. Mom is utterly confused, probably because her main focus is getting to her “hip” Korean hair salon on time. Annie then calls her father to wish him a “Happy Birthday”. Her father thanks her, but is upset because he is getting too old. One week later, guess what! It’s mom’s birthday and of course Annie calls her to wish her a “Happy Birthday”. Her mom sulks and complains about being alone on her birthday. Annie has little sympathy.
When she was 23, Arnold, a disoriented stuffed pig, caught Annie’s eye while she was shopping at Dongdaemun, a Korean flea market, with her mom. Annie has always loved stuffed animals. When she was little, she had so many animals that they literally took over her bed, and her life. Her obsession with stuffed animals led her to have high anxiety. She gave her animal’s histories, she worried about them constantly, and she even covered them with blankets at night so that they wouldn’t get cold. Once her mom removed the blankets and Annie had a crying fit, forcing her mother to apologize to every single one of them. This is when her mother began to worry. When her family traveled to Korea, Annie’s mother only let her take one animal. After a long deliberation, Annie decides to bring a koala bear. Of this her cousin “really likes”. In Korea, when someone “really likes” something, it is a custom to give them that item. But Annie refuses to give up her Koala and hides it deep within her suitcase. Upon returning to the US, there is no longer a koala in her suitcase. Annie’s mother realizes this is a good way to get rid of animals and started hosting many parties with children who “really liked” Annie’s animals. By high school, Annie still slept with her animals, although there were noticeably fewer. Once she left for college though, her mother threw the rest of the collection away. Annie only has some left that she had received after college from friends and boyfriends, including Arnold. She bought Arnold for a final bargain of nine US dollars from the ajuma, despite her mother’s concerns that she was too old to buy a stuffed animal. Upon returning home, Annie puts Arnold in her backpack, leaving his head sticking out to see the world.
Annie’s mother is very disappointed. Apparently, Annie has received a B+ on her spelling test and it is simply not acceptable. According to her mother, Annie doesn’t study or do homework enough; no one is happy with a B. So, her mother makes Annie write every word she got wrong ten times. This becomes Annie’s new studying regimen- copying every word down ten times and then some. With this extra studying, Annie begins to get perfect scores, making mommy very proud. So proud that when her brother Mike gets a B in math, Annie’s mother concentrates all her concern on him. Despite the studying Annie does alone, she receives a B on her next exam. But she lies about her score, her mother believing that she is continuing to get perfect. As the words get harder, Annie’s grades decrease. Annie even gets a B- and hides it under some insectide. Not a good hiding place considering that her mother finds it and gets extremely angry. So angry, that she forces Annie to go get her something to spank. Annie reluctantly picks out an old rice spoon, previously snapped in half due to excessive spanking. After she spanks her daughter, Annie’s mother gives her workbooks, in which Annie must complete 15 pages a week- “Mommy homework” Annie completes the assignments and starts to get perfect scores again. Soon, Annie is the best speller in her class and therefore qualifies for the Spelling Bee. Annie studies hard for this even though she doesn’t want to, although she does not study definitions. At the Spelling Bee, Annie makes it to the final five. Coming in fifth place because she spelled lyre, l-i-a-r. She is very angry because she doesn’t understand. She looks up lyre at home- it means harp. The next day, she receives a National Spelling Bee Book from her teacher, as she is the 2nd alternate. Although Annie knows she has little chance of going, she flips through the book finding new, exotic words. Her new favorite word is ytterbium.
Reactions: I am really enjoying this book I think it is absolutely hilarious. From the no Bs rule to the “really likes” custom, it is very stereotypical of what an Asian family is believed to be. The mother is just ridiculous with what she says and you can hear her echoing in your ear while you read because Annie Choi dialects her perfectly. It is amazing the situations this family gets in; they seem so dysfunctional yet so unbelievably normal- and extremely entertaining.