by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
January 2011 | 312 pages | Middle Grade (Ages 9-12)
Twelve-year-old Lucy Wu has big plans for 6th grade. She and her friend Madison will be basketball stars, and with her older sister, Regina heading to college, Lucy will have her own room. These plans are quickly foiled, however, when her father returns from a trip to China with Yi Po, the long-lost sister of Lucy's deceased grandmother. Yi Po will live with the family until Christmas - right in Lucy's bedroom. Lucy resents all the changes this will bring into the household, and immediately sets up a wall between her side of the room and Yi Po's, absolutely refusing to cross it for any reason.
Her parents see this as a wonderful learning opportunity, however, and they decide to send Lucy to Chinese school instead of basketball practice. Lucy, who has little interest in Chinese culture or language sees this as a terrible personal affront, and complains about how unfair her family is being. Madison, however, is fascinated by Yi Po, and Kenny, Lucy's brother, also seems sympathetic, especially after studying the Chinese cultural revolution and learning all that Yi Po has lived through. Lucy really tries to ignore Yi Po and to actively dislike her, but after a few Chinese lessons, and an altercation with a bully at school, she slowly comes to know and appreciate the quiet strength of her grandmother's sister.
Lucy is a really relatable tween protagonist who shares the emotions and experiences of many 12 year old girls. She deals with bullies, annoying peers, a secret crush, parents who seemingly don't understand her, competing priorities and questions of identity. And she does all of this without once becoming a stereotype. Lucy's not one of the mean girls or the popular girls, but she's also not a nerd. She's not even a jock though she's interested in sports. She's a very real and well-developed character whose journey toward accepting and understanding her Chinese background is just as much a learning experience for the reader as it is for her.
I liked so many things about this book. Wendy Wan-Long Shang really captures the essence of being 12 years old, and also draws a wonderful portrait of a Chinese-American family. I loved all the Chinese language used in the book - I can't recall seeing that in many children's books. If anything, we usually get a handful of Spanish or French words. I also learned a history lesson, almost without realizing I was learning anything! Shang has created a story that is about being Chinese, but is also about growing in self-knowledge and looking beyond ourselves to learn where we come from and how we've gotten to where we are.
Just wonderful. Definitely a recommended read!
I borrowed The Great Wall of Lucy Wu from my local public library.
It's National Poetry Month! I'm celebrating by linking to a favorite poem at the end of every review I post in April. Today's poem is Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.