Published by Kokila
Summary: It’s 1885, and 13-year-old Mei is working as an assistant cook, helping her father in a logging camp in the Sierra Nevadas. The stories she makes up about Auntie Po, a larger-than-life character inspired by Paul Bunyan, entertain the other kids and help her to celebrate her Chinese heritage. Prejudice against her father and other Chinese workers leads to their dismissal and Mei’s anger at her helplessness. When the White workers strike to protest their bad food, the boss is forced to hire back Mei’s father. The two men are friends, as are the boss’s daughter and Mei (who sometimes dreams of something more than a friendship), but Mei and her father frequently have to remind the White man and his daughter of the privileges they have that the Chinese don’t. A tragedy forces Mei to question her belief in Auntie Po, but eventually brings about a chain of events that give her and her father hope for a brighter future. Includes an author’s note and bibliography. 304 pages; grades 5-9.
Pros: It’s not often that I’m actually reading a book when it’s announced as a National Book Award finalist (okay, that has never happened to me before and probably never will again). There’s so much here: historical fiction, folklore, explorations of racism and privilege, coming of age, LGBTQ issues…plus a great story with outstanding artwork. I’m guessing this will be considered for a Newbery or maybe a Printz award. It would definitely have appeal for either age group.
Cons: There are a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of, and I felt like I missed some of the subtleties in my first reading.