All That Matters


423 pages
ISBN 0-385-25759-7
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.


The first time young Kiam-Kim met his stepmother, she gave him a silver
butterfly charm. The charm was immediately confiscated by Poh-Poh,
Kiam-Kim’s superstitious and curmudgeonly grandmother, but from that
moment forward Kiam-Kim’s life would mirror the spirit of the

At first, Kiam-Kim is caught like a bug in a whirlwind. A Chinese
orphan, he has been sent to Depression-era Canada to remove a curse by
being the replacement for the deceased son of a Chinese merchant in
Vancouver. Along with Poh-Poh, Kiam-Kim and his foster father form an
instant family that must both fool the ever-suspicious immigration
authorities in Vancouver and placate the jealous spirits of dead
relatives in the afterworld. Like a butterfly moving from its
caterpillar to its pupal stage, Kiam-Kim begins to understand that he is
a creature of two worlds. Although he is best friends with his neighbour
Jack O’Connor, Kiam-Kim realizes that he is not accepted by Canadian
society in the same way a Caucasian child is. He also realizes that he
is not accepted by the old Chinese community; rather, he is regarded as
a Mo-No—someone with a Chinese body but without a Chinese brain.

A young Chinese-Canadian boy growing up in Vancouver in the 1930s and
1940s was the theme Wayson Choy used in his first two books. Without
diminishing the earlier works, this is Choy’s best book so far.
Choy’s trademark lyrical prose shimmers like fine silk. Using humour,
irony, and wonderful characters like Poh-Poh, Choy builds a world all
readers can feel and believe. Many times Kiam-Kim finds conflicting
values challenged until he is pared down to basics. He no longer cares
about wanting to be accepted by Chinese or white strangers; being
himself is really all that matters. The story ends in 1947, the same
year that Canada finally repeals the racist laws that for generations
excluded Chinese people from obtaining Canadian citizenship. Kiam-Kim,
now a young man, is ready to embark on his new life like a newly hatched
butterfly. Could this be the launching pad for a sequel?


Choy, Wayson., “All That Matters,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,