In the Company of Strangers is a fine collection of short fiction. I’m highlighting it because I believe it to be strangely overlooked — and it shouldn’t be. Writing from the Overseas Filipino diaspora is complex and diverse. It speaks to the wildly disparate realities of a people who continue to carve out a place in the global consciousness and imagination. Skinner tells stories about a range of characters and time periods, and she does this with humor and accuracy. Her details speak to a writer who carefully researches and who has mastery of her subject matter. I also enjoy the style mash-up. It’s fun. She’s the real thing and offers no easy answers.
I taught this book to my grade 10 class at Punahou and the students the stories sparked discussions: colonialism, gender, isolation, exploitation, Asian American identity, families, migrant labor, geography, community — there’s a lot to unpack in this slender volume of stories.
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM DR. HAN: Short stories are excellent to teach to young readers because many students have a serious problem getting through a 300 page novel. Dear Teachers: we must reckon with this. Now, now…pick yourself up! No, you do not have to sob uncontrollably in front of your personal library of beloved dogeared books that were highlighted when you were a young cub… it will be fine… Reframe. Pick material that can serve as a Gateway Read. Reading as experimentation and rebellion. Skinner’s book is not a YA book AT ALL, but it’s a great Gateway Read to books that are longer.
The We-Came-To-America-And-The-Story-Ends-Great-Our-Son-Went-To-Harvard-We-Made-It trajectory isn’t a part of this book and guess what: THAT IS A BIG PLUS. I acknowledge that this Beloved and Holy Immigrant Narrative is important, but it’s not the only story. This book shows us the other stories and highlights the nuance of life. Have a read.