The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown


Fiction - Southern
132 Pages
Reviewed on 01/02/2021
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Author Biography

James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. Because of his background as a peace officer, the criminal element provides fodder for much of his writing. James is the author of five books, three of which have won awards. The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown is James' fifth published book.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown by James Hanna is a hoot and a half. What makes it so fabulous is the character/narrator—Gertie McDowell, 23, of Turkey Roost, Kentucky. The narrative consists of a group of her journal “scribblings,” and Gertie belongs in the top list of first-person narrators right up there with Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. Her tales are wild and wacky, and she references the real author, James Hanna, as her consultant and editor. Her gullibility gets her into all kinds of trouble, including a prison stay in Martha Stewart’s former hoosegow in West Virginia for unwittingly participating in a methamphetamine distribution scheme. During her stay, she wins tampons and shower shoes by playing checkers. As the journal entries continue, we learn she can design dresses, sing bluegrass, play ping-pong, ride mechanical bulls, and squash worms for foot fetishists.

But it’s Gertie’s voice—oh, what a voice! You can just hear that backwoods Kentucky twang. And she’s quite the thinker with her deep questions about the Bible. How is it that Cain can marry with no women in existence besides Eve? How come Jesus fed the multitudes only fish—what about the meat-eaters? Oh, and wasn’t raising Lazarus a mistake? And didn’t Doubting Thomas have every right to doubt the resurrection? Then, there’s the men in her life including the Nose, Warden Jordan, Jean Valjean, Sancho Panza, and Armadillo Slick, to mention a few. And OMG, her country-hewn metaphors: “dumber than broccoli”; “blinked like a frog on a log”; her “pulse jumped like a grasshopper”; “he grinned like a possum with gas”; “eyebrows like wooly worms.” It’s really wonderful, and quite rare, to read a book that makes you laugh out loud. So, congratulations, author Hanna. You gave us more yucks in these downhome yarns than in a bucketful of minnows!

Carolina Restrepo

Gertie McDowell seems like a nice calm girl from how she communicates, but that can’t be farther from the truth. She is as naïve as can be. Straight from Turkey Roost, Kentucky comes Gertie’s diary filled with her most outstanding and crazy adventures, and not even Gertie knows how she came to be in them. The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown by James Hanna follows Gertie from state to state in her bewildering yet dangerous life experiences. Our protagonist goes from innocently trafficking drugs to being a foot fetish star to being in prison and even getting sold into white slavery. Her attempts to blend in go out the window the second she becomes the Ping-Pong Champion of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her life is nothing but upside down and she is barely in her early twenties; who knows what else will happen to dear, gullible Gertie McDowell?

James Hanna creates a compelling yet funny story about a southern girl who can’t help but fall into the wrong hands and land herself in the utmost insane situations. I personally really liked this light and fun story, very different from the books I usually read. I finished this in a couple of days and had no trouble spending a few hours reading non-stop. A small part of me thinks that Gertie is an actual human being and that only alludes to how well James creates the characters in the stories. Overall, it is very well written. I felt as if I was reading about a small-town southern girl who could not help getting herself into messes. I recommend The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown to anyone who wants an entertaining read.

Grant Leishman

The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown by James Hanna is a whimsical look at modern-day life through the eyes of a young, naïve, southern belle from the tiny town of Turkey Roost, Kentucky. Gertie McDowell is an ambitious young woman who doesn’t quite know where she should be headed, except that maybe it is out of Turkey Roost. After the boy of her dreams departs the home town, Gertie marries the first wastrel that asks her and regrets every moment thereafter. Determined to make a success of her life, she boots her no-good, lazy husband to the curb and heads west on the back of her high-school success as “Annie” in the school production, determined to make her mark in the land of the glitterati; Hollywood. Spotted by a sleazy producer of foot-fetish films for the internet, Gertie quickly finds the money rolling in and fame on the web as “Little Miss Twinkle Toes”. Once she tires of internet fame and being only recognized for her feet, Gertie heads home determined to start her own business. What follows is a hilarious set of escapades that will take her all over the place, to Chinatown, to prison, and into the witness protection program, just to mention a few. All along, Gertie seeks what we all seek – happiness - but is she looking in all the wrong places?

The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown will not have you guffawing in the aisles but it is genuinely funny and you will find yourself chuckling along at times, especially at Gertie’s politically incorrect thoughts and utterances from time to time. Writing genuinely funny prose is a difficult art form and author James Hanna has done a good job of translating Gertie’s adventures to the written word. I particularly loved Gertie’s stunning naivety, coupled with her immensely good heart that captivated so many people along her journey. She would probably be described by many as “white trailer trash” but in this author’s hands, she becomes a genuinely funny character with quirks, reactions, and a gentle heart that makes the reader both cringe and go, “ahhhh”, simultaneously. The fact that this author can write a genuinely whimsical and funny satire about this hapless young woman’s life is a credit to his skill as a wordsmith. In a time when the world seems so serious, so frightening, and so “woke”, a dose of farcical humor such as this can do us absolutely no harm whatsoever. If we ever lose the ability to smile and chortle at genuinely funny situational comedy then we have truly failed. This is a short, pleasant and at times heart-warming read that can do nothing but make you smile and perhaps even feel better about your own circumstances, if even for a short time. Just for that reason alone, I can recommend this read.

Viga Boland

The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown is Gertie McDowell and she’s an absolute delight! I fell in love with her at the first sound of her unapologetic, grammatically terrible voice, left unedited at her request by James Hanna. To correct Gertie’s vocabulary and backward way of speaking would have rendered her unbelievable and nowhere near as loveable. If you ever watched the movies Calamity Jane or Annie Get Your Gun, two of my all-time favorites, you’ll know Gertie belongs up there on the big screen with them. What a character! Gertie is warm, friendly, trusting, and gullible. Unfortunately, as a result, she is easily impressed and consequently victimized by smooth-talking men with nefarious agendas, and boy, does she get herself into some prickly situations. Her innocence leads to her being nearly murdered and even landing herself in jail. Fortunately, she has a couple of unlikely guardian angels in a gay friend with a foot fetish and an older law enforcement officer.

I’m not going to tell you the kinds of situations Gertie finds herself in and how she got there. You just have to read her words yourself. Only she, through James Hanna, can do her story and her over-the-top personality justice. She is such fun she leaves you wanting more, long after you finish learning how she ended up as the Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown. After I finished smiling my way through this book, I instantly checked to see what else Hanna has written. He is a diverse writer, but quite frankly, his gift for humor and creating characters like Gertie is a talent I wish I had. I really hope that James Hanna has several more “Gerties” in his cranium. What a delightful escape from so much of today’s bad news. More please, Mr. Hanna.