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Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same | Grace Lin | Sweet Peas & Stilettos
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Future Cult Sensation(s)

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin

My best friends in elementary school were identical twins. Their mother dressed them in the same polyester-flowered shirts (hey, it was the seventies) and bell-bottomed pants. No one in our school could tell them apart. This always astonished me. To me, they were nothing alike.

This experience may be why Grace Lin’s latest book, Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! caught my eye. At first, the book might seem aimed at a limited audience – twins, or the elementary school friends of twins. But the appeal is actually universal, for any siblings who want to assert their individual identities and yet still maintain a close relationship.

Twin sisters Ling and Ting “have the same pink cheeks. They have the same happy smiles. People see them and they say, “You two are exactly the same!” But they aren’t. Even if their hair grows at the same rate, Ting can’t sit still in the barber’s chair and winds up with choppy bangs. Ting has a terrible memory, while Ling can’t use chopsticks. Ling’s dumplings are smooth, Ting’s bumpy with extra meat. The differences accumulate through six “Stories” that have the feel of short chapters for very young readers.

While the twins are completely aware of their differences, they help rather than undermine each other. Ling doesn’t laugh at Ting’s hair or forgetfulness. Ting offers to glue Ling’s food to her chopsticks. At the end, Ting’s own story of twins ends with “They were not exactly the same . . . . but they always stayed together.”

What elevates this book above the “sibling” genre, however, is the style with which Lin has told the story. Lin’s inspiration came from the 1940’s Swedish series Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the New Dotted Dresses, by Maj Lindman. Ling and Ting wear red-dotted dresses like the Swedish triplets, and Lin’s language has the deceptively simple, slightly stilted feel of a sophisticated Pat the Bunny.

But Ling and Ting playfully treads the fine line between retro (Asian) Americana and postmodernism, repeatedly stepping outside the story to comment on the story. Even before the chapters begin, Ling and Ting cavort across a blank page with popcorn and drinks, whispering “Shh! It is starting! Oh no! Are we late?” as if they’re attending a movie of their own lives. A story about a library book suddenly takes a left turn as Ting refers back to an earlier chapter. In the final section, Ling asks Ting for a story. As an author, Ting retells the earlier stories, but all jumbled and mixed up, with Ling objecting to every change.

Just when you think the story is over, the twins reappear with their snacks. “Was that the end?” Ting asks. “No, this is!” Ling replies.

Lin has created a future cult classic – black-clad Modern Lit students will proudly display Ling and Ting on their dorm room bookshelves.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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