Summary: Not Your All-American Girl
In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren is Jewish and Chinese. It’s the 1980s and Lauren and her best friend — who’s blonde with blue eyes — do everything together. So when they don’t have any sixth-grade classes together, they’re bummed! They decide that they will audition for their school’s musical so that they can at least have that time together. Lauren’s audition goes swimmingly, and she’s obviously the better singer than Tara (even better than any of the other kids), but when the cast list is released Lauren is only part of the ensemble and Tara is cast as lead. Upon confronting the director, she explains that Lauren’s half-Jewish, half-Chinese looks don’t match the role of “all-American girl” in the “all-American town” depicted in their musical.
This encounter opens Lauren’s eyes to several microaggressions and brings to the fore her issues with being biracial and looking different from other at her predominantly white school. Looking for a relatable figure, she beings to nurture a love for the singer Patsy Cline whom she mistakenly assumes is also Jewish. There are also changes at home with her mother looking to enter law school, which would make her even less available to Lauren. With the help of her family and two grandmothers, Lauren learns to find her place, while keeping her friendship with Tara.
This was a perfect balance of fun and serious. Lauren is a very introspective character and she makes this story quite voice driven. I loved watching the relatable way she in which handled the strain in her and Tara’s relationship. Especially for that time, I think Tara did her best to be a good friend, and in handling her privilege. I’m always happy to see healthy friendships reflected on the page, even if there are some hiccups along the way.
Lauren’s family is another high point in the story. I haven’t read the companion title that focuses on her brother, David, but I didn’t feel like I missed much of anything. David is a supportive brother and they have a nice relationship. Lauren’s grandmothers bring some serious comic relief and remind me a lot of Lupe’s grandmothers in Lupe Wong Won’t Dance (about a Chinese-Mexican girl). Another high point, of course, is the show itself! I listened to the audiobook and the narrator actually SINGS! It’s pretty cool. Plus, there’s hula hooping, and a lot of fun camaraderie between the kids.
Overall: Not Your All-American Girl
Not Your All-American Girl is a vital look at racial prejudice in the 1980’s through a fun, engaging lens. This middle-grade book showcases a strong biracial protagonist (Jewish-Chinese) who learns to embrace her identity with the help of her family and two boisterous grandmothers. The story centers around a fun school musical that will make this book appealing to fans of middle-grade books about music and musical theater. I would also highly recommend the audiobook for a more immersive experience (including real singing!)
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Have you read this book or any others by Madelyn Rosenberg and Weny Wan-Long Shang? The duo seem to be excellent together! I’m hoping to read the companion title at some point. Any other recs?