Summary: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is one of those backlist titles I’ve wanted to read for a long time now. This middle-grade book follows Lucy, a short Chinese-American girl caught between two cultures. Lucy plays basketball (very well) and would choose mac and cheese over most Chinese dishes. Her older siblings seem to fit the “perfect Chinese child” stereotype more than she does. Regina, her sister, started a Chinese club in high school and speaks flawless Chinese, while her brother Kenny, although a bookworm, loves and eats all Chinese food and is a Math whiz. Still Lucy perseveres with interests, eagerly anticipating her sister’s move to college so she can have their room all to herself, but that is not to be.
Lucy’s dreams are intercepted when her parents insist she attend Chinese school instead of basketball practice. On top of that, her father returns from China with her late grandmother’s long-lost sister, Yi Po, who will now share Lucy’s room. Add to that the bullying she has to deal with from Sloane, a girl who competes with Lucy for a coveted basketball captain spot, and Lucy may just be having the worst year ever.
I loved this book so much. Asian culture has strong similarities with African culture, so I’m often very drawn to stories by Asian authors. Lucy is an engaging protagonist. While she is unsurprisingly frustrated by the turn of events, she is hilarious, honest, and truly skilled at basketball. I admired her determination to pursue the sport throughout the book. Something else I loved was her friendship with Madison. It was healthy and supportive, even if both girls did not agree on everything. I liked the arc of her relationship with Talent Chang as well.
A lot of this story happens at home, so there’s plenty of interesting family dynamics and sweet, but funny sibling relationships. Yi Po’s relationship with Lucy blossoms realistically and becomes a heartwarming part of the story. There are so many mentions of Chinese food and the connection between love and a warm, nourishing meal, so food is integral to this story. Basketball is also a significant plot point as Lucy practices her free throws and attends practices. With Sloane and the Amazons (a group of girl bullies in Lucy’s school), the author highlights the effects of bullying without making the book too sad or anxiety inducing.
Finally, this book is insightful where Chinese culture is concerned. Honestly, I’m tempted to start learning Chinese after reading it! The author highlights idioms, the characters speak Chinese phrases, and we learn even more at Lucy’s Chinese school. Plus, there’s a touch of Chinese history with Yi Po’s experience — all done without turning this book into historical fiction.
Overall: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is a humorous, immersive middle-grade book with a memorable protagonist. Lucy Wu’s middle school trials and the struggles of being caught between cultures stand out. This book also examines Chinese history and culture in an accessible way, and encourages children of mixed cultures to give their parents’ cultures a fair chance. I would highly recommend The Great Wall of Lucy Wu to any readers who enjoy books about Chinese culture, funny protagonists, sports fiction, and books with loads of food references.
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Have you read this book or any other books by Wendy Wan-Long Shang? I loved this one so much that I’m planning to read Not Your All-American Girl next, which she’s co-written with Madelyn Rosenberg, a Jewish author! Which Asian middle-grade books have you read and loved?