Archive for June, 2011

Review of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Scholastic Press, New York, 2011. 312 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: I met Wendy Shang at KidLitCon09 and liked her very much. She’s also a local author, a member of the awesome DC KidLit Book Club, and a volunteer for Fairfax County Public Library — so an all-round wonderful person! Anyway, I was definitely predisposed to like her book, but I confess I didn’t expect to love it like I did. In fact, I checked it out as soon as I saw the library had ordered it, but I found myself putting off reading it. I expected some sort of problem-novel book about being Chinese in America.

I decided I really should read my friend’s book, and chose it as my first choice for the 2011 48-Hour Book Challenge. And I was completely delighted with it! Yes, okay, it does have issues about a sixth-grader being Chinese in America. But mostly, it’s a great story about an American kid whose sixth-grade year does not turn out as she expects it to.

Lucy Wu has been looking forward for ages to the day when her older sister Regina, the one everyone thinks is so perfect, moves out of their shared bedroom and goes to college. But Lucy’s hopes come crashing down when she learns that her grandmother’s long-lost younger sister, Yi Po, is going to come visit for several months. And the only place where she can sleep is that bed Regina vacated in Lucy’s room.

Then Talent Chang tells Lucy’s mother that her mother is starting Chinese school on Saturday mornings. Never mind that Lucy has basketball practice at that time. Her parents see this as her chance to learn how to communicate better with Yi Po. Lucy loves basketball. She lives and breathes basketball.

“When I tell people that I play basketball, I usually get two kinds of reactions. The first is an awkward pause while my entire height of four-foot-nothing gets examined up one side and down the other, followed by something like, “O-kaaaay. What other sports do you like?” The second, while more positive, is really not any better. It’s a big fishy grin, followed by, “Oh! Just like Yao Ming!” Like I have anything in common with a seven-and-ahalf-foot-tall male basketball player, other than the fact that we’re both Chinese.

“But I love basketball. The day I got the hang of dribbling the ball through my legs counts as one of the best days of my life, and that feeling I get when I know the ball’s going in because everything has lined up perfectly is the greatest rush. To me, getting the ball to an open teammate on a no-look pass is a thing of beauty. And tell me there’s something more exciting than the last few seconds of a tied-up basketball game where tenths of a second count.”

So when they announce there’s going to be a basketball game this year between the teachers and the sixth-graders, and the Captain of the sixth grade team will be chosen by who can shoot the most free throws, well of course Lucy wants to be Captain, and her best friend Madison is sure she’ll win. But then she learns that Sloane Connors wants to be Captain.

“She’s the head of a little group that Madison and I secretly call the Amazons, and they can make your life miserable in a thousand different ways.”

Lucy does not want to cross Sloane, but unfortunately Sloane already found out that Lucy was planning to try out for Captain. Lucy wishes Madison would let her be a coward and give up, but Madison is adamant that Lucy will win and lead the team to victory.

I was going to just dip into this book while I was focusing on writing reviews, but I found myself reading it eagerly. And when I finished, I had a big smile on my face. This is a lovely, well-crafted book. Lucy comes across as a very real American kid. Yeah, she complains a bit much about having her great-aunt move into her room — but honestly, what American kid wouldn’t? There’s a boy she likes, and you won’t believe what happens when she gets a chance to have a good conversation with him. (This was beautiful, in a catastrophic way, but I won’t give it away.)

All the elements are woven together expertly — Lucy’s passion for basketball, her relationships with her family members, her birthday party plans, Chinese school and the girl Talent Chang who is annoyingly perfect but wants to be friends, school and the mean girls going after her, embarrassment over the ways she and her family are different, and even some cross-cultural awareness as to what Yi Po went through during the Cultural Revolution. It’s all in there and told in an engaging, warm, and delightful way.

And it’s all woven together with the story of a Chinese idiom that illustrates that things often turn out quite different than you expect. Bad things often turn out to be good, and good things often turn out to be bad.

Well, with this book, I was predisposed to like it, and it turned out to be delightful beyond my expectations. I wonder if there is an idiom for that?

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Saturday Morning Check-In

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Good Morning! I’m off to a great start on the second day of the 48-Hour Book Challenge!

I decided that Tim having the SAT today was absolutely perfect — I took the day off work, and got up early — all the better to read! Of course, I listened to an audiobook in the car. The one I was listening to was the third CD of Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. It was kind of funny — they were talking about a doctor facing a difficult delivery of twins. Very specific. And then the doctor decided to crush the baby’s brain in order to get it out. Very graphic.

Of course, I apologized to my son for the unfortunate selection. He understood that I was listening so as not to have a break in the 48-Hour Book Challenge. He said it was no problem — that would probably be the selection they would have him analyze on the SAT.

Of course, that made me laugh! That would be the day! A selection involving a woman’s reproductive system and crushing the brain of a baby? Yeah, that would go over great on the SAT! So I sent him off to the test with a laugh. (I do love that kid’s sense of humor!)

Today I actually don’t have any more commitments at all except picking Tim up from the SAT at 12:45. Oh, and I need to call my Mom to wish her a Happy 70th (!) Birthday! But otherwise, my biggest challenge will be staying awake to read. I might give in and take a short nap — the better to stay up late tonight.

I did finish one book yesterday, and absolutely loved it — The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, by Wendy Shang. I did write a review, and promise to post it after I have written five reviews. Here are my stats so far:

Hours Reading: 5 hours, 45 minutes
Hours Blogging: 3 and a half
Time Listening: 20 minutes
Time Networking: 30 minutes

Grand total: 10 hours, 5 minutes

Not bad for 18 hours into the challenge. If I took 8 hours to sleep and shower and eat and do my writing, I hope that tomorrow, with going to church, I can keep it down to less than 10 hours — I want to hit 30 hours. It will be a challenge, but I might be able to do it….

Book stats are 418 pages read, one book finished. (I read a lot of excerpts from nonfiction.)

I’ve written 4 reviews, posted 4 quotes, and written one other blog post, for a total of 4,814 words.

Now, I am not writing reviews as quickly as I will need to if I want to make significant progress on getting caught up. I will have to start making them shorter. However, I am enjoying writing them, and I am writing them, so it’s all good. I have begun reading The Seven Towers, by Patricia C. Wrede, and I’m loving that, too.

This is proving to be a truly beautiful weekend! Read on!

48-Hour Book Challenge 2011

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Woo-hoo! I am now officially beginning this year’s 48-Hour Reading Challenge at 4:30 on Friday!

Mother Reader is the blogger who sponsors the Challenge. This is her sixth year doing the 48-Hour Book Challenge, and my third year participating. As I said in my round-up last year, this is the time when the guilt is totally reversed — You get to feel guilty if you’re NOT reading! 🙂 Woo-hoo!

The rules are most reasonable and quite lovely. As Mother Reader says, this is “that weekend extravaganza that lets you say, “Back off, I’m reading.

In fact, that statement makes me think I need to point out what our theme song should be:

Seriously, I love the 48-Hour Book Challenge and look forward to it all year. This year, because I have to take my son to the SAT tomorrow morning (while playing an audiobook), I actually have both Friday and Saturday off. So I am planning to stretch myself and see if I can hit the 30 hour mark this year.

I’m afraid I’m going to be unspiritual and skip my small group Bible study tonight. We’re even doing a book study, but I will be so close to 30 hours… I won’t, however, skip church Sunday morning, so that’s the main “interruption.” If I’m not lingering to talk so much after church, this is why!

Of course, I’d meant to get started much earlier today. But I decided I really should run some errands first. Had to buy snacks, right? And then it seemed like a good idea to take a nap. It’s going to be tricky going all the way until 4:30 on Sunday, since the big question will be whether or not I can skip my Sunday afternoon nap. I have my doubts! That will give me a few hours left on Sunday to get ready for a long week’s work — I’ll be working the next 6 days.

Now, the point of the 48-Hour Book Challenge is to pick a 48-hour time block on the designated weekend and read and blog about books as much as possible in that time. Blogging time counts.

This year, I’m way, way behind on writing reviews. There are stacks of books which I have read this year, and very much want to review, but simply haven’t done it yet. So my goal for this weekend is not quite as much fun as spending 30 hours reading. I want to spend the majority of my time writing reviews. I want to get within reach of catching up on that backlog.

Now, I probably won’t post all the reviews I write today. It works well for me to write them ahead and then post one a day. When I post the reviews, I add in links to related reviews and things like that and a link between the blog and the main site, But I think I will keep track of my progress by posting a review after every five reviews I write. And I simply have to get some books read, or where’s the fun in the challenge? So I’ll definitely be reading some books, too. In fact, I think the key to reading instead of sleeping is to find one of those books that I can’t put down if I wanted to. So I hope I can pick a good one!