IQ "For the longest time, China had seemed like a separate place, the hyphenated place in my life. Chinese-American. But now China was close, because that's where Yi Pao was from." pg. 258
Lucy Wu is all set to have the perfect year; she's a sixth grader which means she and her friends will rule the school, her older sister (Regina) is going off to college so she will have her own room and she intends on trying out for the spot of captain of her sixth grade basketball team. Then her father drops the bombshell, her grandmother's sister (Yi Pao) is coming to stay with the family for a few months and she will have to share a room with Lucy. To make matters worse, Talent Chang tells Lucy's mother about a new Chinese school that meets every Saturday morning. At the same time as basketball practice. Lucy's parents force her to go Chinese school, but it doesn't matter anyway because snobby Sloane will bully Lucy out of her spot on the basketball team.
Through blogging I've fallen in love with some middle grade books (8th Grade Superzero, Ninth Ward, One Crazy Summer, to name a few) but while I dearly love all those books I never felt that any of them were so close to my personality. I was either entirely envious of how self confident they were (Lanesha! Ruthie!) or shaking my head in amusement at how far they had to go before they reached maturity. Usually I just settle for saying 'I would totally be his/her friend' but The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is different. Lucy isn't on either extreme and I love her dearly for it. Lucy is generally pretty confident and she's not a social pariah or completely oblivious to the world around her. She's a great basketball player, friendly and occasionally a whiner. Lucy would not have been my friend, she would have been me (or I would have been her?) when I was her age (not that sixth grade was that long ago!). She's not a precocious sixth grade, amazingly intelligent. Instead she has friends, is devoted to a sport and gets good grades (without much pressure from her parents mind you). It was SO refreshing to read a middle grade book where the main character was so..so...normal, in the middle (although in the book she is the youngest), flawed but seriously lovable. Furthermore, it was a bit of relief to find a book where the Chinese parents weren't so strict, they had rules but they weren't trying to stop their kids from having a social life. The family life is realistic and heartwarming. I love reading about connections with older adults/older family members.
And surprise there are mentions of the Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution which I happen to be studying in my comparative government class (this is why we should read more MG/YA in school ;). I didn't feel overwhelmed with facts about the Cultural Revolution, the author reveals bits and pieces of the atrocities committed but the book never loses its cheerful tone even when discussing the horrid Cultural Revolution (which you may recall I also learned about in another great book Girl Overboard). As embarrassing as it is to admit, I could completely relate to Lucy not wanting to deal with her Chinese great-aunt because I've felt the same way about my Spanish-speaking relatives. Both Lucy and I are sure that they will never understand our lives so why bother trying to talk to them? Well we're both wrong and I've never been so happy to have been proven wrong :) More importantly, I think anyone who is a hyphenated American can relate to Lucy whether you're American-Irish, Black American, Chinese American, etc. There are certain moments in our lives where we feel really connected with our culture and our ancestors, whether we get this connection from relatives, visits to our ancestral lands or books, we all feel it at some point.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is darn near perfect. Lucy is a girl after my own heart (student athlete, holla!), but I loved that I could see a little bit of myself in every character. Like Kenny (Lucy's older brother) I love history. Like Regina, I can be a little bossy (my sister was convinced Regina was modeled after me but I am NOT THAT bad, although Regina redeems herself so I guess it's all good). There is a particular incident involving Lucy's crush (ah first crush and I was very happy that he was half Chinese but that fact is not made out to be some Big Deal. It is what it is) that would have left me absolutely mortified (SPOILER, highlight to read. Accidentally pushing Harrison down the stairs? If I had pushed my crush down the stairs I would have died, of embarrassment. haha).In addition to the impromptu history lesson, prejudice also plays a role. A certain someone writes derogatory things about Lucy on the bathroom wall having to do with her being Chinese and Lucy has to figure out how to deal with that. It's yet another affirmation that racism still exists and the people who honestly think we live in a post-racial society need to wake up. It's books like this one that will help open people's eyes in the most entertaining of ways, whether by introducing them to a Chinese-American girl who plays basketball and loves to hang out with friends or showing them that kids can be really mean and they know racial slurs so we need to teach them tolerance early. Definitely one of my favorite debuts of the year, one of my favorites of the year, period.
Disclosure: Received from publisher. Thank you so much Scholastic!
PS You MUST read my interview with the author