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The Many Meanings of Meilan
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The Many Meanings of Meilan
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“The little girl I was would have been thrilled to encounter Meilan... having found a character who embraces the complexity of being both Chinese and American, I would have been able to echo her...
“The little girl I was would have been thrilled to encounter Meilan... having found a character who embraces the complexity of being both Chinese and American, I would have been able to echo her...
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  • “The little girl I was would have been thrilled to encounter Meilan... having found a character who embraces the complexity of being both Chinese and American, I would have been able to echo her words: 'I am not alone.'” 
    New York Times Book Review by Jean Kwok
     
    A family feud before the start of seventh grade propels Meilan from Boston's Chinatown to rural Ohio, where she must tap into her inner strength and sense of justice to make a new place for herself in this resonant debut.

    Meilan Hua's world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family's beloved matriarch, Nai Nai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston's Chinatown; and her favorite Chinese fairy tales.
    After Nai Nai passes, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather on the road in search of a new home. They take a winding path across the country before landing in Redbud, Ohio. Everything in Redbud is the opposite of Chinatown, and Meilan's not quite sure who she is—being renamed at school only makes it worse. She decides she is many Meilans, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her name. Sometimes she is Mist, cooling and invisible; other times, she's Basket, carrying her parents' hopes and dreams and her guilt of not living up to them; and occasionally she is bright Blue, the way she feels around her new friend Logan. Meilan keeps her facets separate until an injustice at school shows her the power of bringing her many selves together.
    The Many Meanings of Meilan, written in stunning prose by Andrea Wang, is an exploration of all the things it's possible to grieve, the injustices large and small that make us rage, and the peace that's unlocked when we learn to find home within ourselves.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2021
    Twelve-year-old Meilan is a gifted storyteller, but she's unprepared for the chain of unfortunate events unleashed by a bedtime story she invents. After her cousin asks how the Golden Phoenix, their Taiwanese American family's bakery, got its name, Meilan spins an imaginative tale. Before long, there are squabbles over money, the business is sold, and Meilan, her parents, and her recently widowed grandfather are leaving Boston. Moving to mostly White Redbud, Ohio, exposes Meilan to microaggressions that begin when the school principal dubs her "Melanie" after mentioning Disney's Mulan in reference to her name. Meilan's alienation and dislocation compel her to reframe her familial narrative using various interpretations of her original name, inspiring the overlay of a Chinese fairy-tale world in which a fox demon, a snake sprite, and a household ghost co-exist with a phoenix, a tree spirit, superstitions, and adages spelled out in tone-marked Hanyu Pinyin. Meanwhile, Meilan's red Doc Martens and newfound friends, with whom she weathers a tornado, evoke a quintessential American tale associated with homecoming. The dizzying array of imagery and references reflect this work's ambitious scope and its not entirely successful attempt to weave together multiple conceits amid explicit efforts to tackle racism as the protagonist makes a new home and finds her chosen family. Unfortunately, the story's important messages are weakened by haphazard pacing, and readers may struggle to follow the logic of Meilan's internal monologues. Underscores the importance of personal stories. (author's note, glossary, further reading) (Fiction. 8-12)

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from August 1, 2021

    Gr 4-7-Wang's middle grade debut is a vibrant exploration of family and identity. Meilan Hua's family runs a bakery in Boston's Chinatown, but when the family fractures, Meilan, her parents, and her grandfather move to small-town Ohio in search of a fresh start. At her new school, the principal decides it's best for Meilan to go by a different name which he choses-Melanie-as to better accommodate the other (white) students. As Meilan navigates tenuous relationships, she explores many facets of her identity, each modeled on a Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her own name. Meilan is a deftly crafted, dynamic character; readers will empathize with, love, and root for her the whole way through. Meilan's named classmates are fully realized, though in comparison Meilan's teachers are starkly two-dimensional, with the principal reaching almost comic-book villain status. The nearly all-white town of Redbud provides myriad opportunities for readers to witness explicit and implicit bias and racism, and Wang demonstrates multiple ways to navigate similar situations. Additionally, Meilan learns about the Vietnam War through talking with her grandfather, who lives with PSTD. Wang balances a heavy load, but does it exceptionally well. Not every thread is neatly tied in the end, ultimately adding to the story's realism. VERDICT Meilan's story should be on library shelves everywhere. Recommended as a general purchase.-Taylor Worley, Springfield P.L., OR

    Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2021
    Grades 4-7 *Starred Review* Wang's resonant middle-grade debut features stunning prose and a fierce protagonist. Meilan, a 12-year-old Taiwanese American, has her life turned upside down due to a family feud following the passing of her grandmother and a misunderstanding of one of her stories. Along with her mom, dad, and grandfather, she is uprooted from Chinatown in Boston to a small, mostly white town in Rosebud, Ohio. On top of starting a new middle school in a new town, Meilan faces one microaggression after another, including having her name changed. She is renamed Melanie, which the principal deems less "unusual." As the only Asian student in her class, Meilan endures a slew of anti-Asian bias, which Wang deftly portrays as problematic through Meilan's character. Meilan's alienation drives her to take on the different meanings of her Chinese name, becoming Mist, Basket, and Blue. She tries to be invisible and blend in while carrying her family's hopes and desires along with her own feelings of guilt. Meilan's journey to reclaiming her identity and finding her inner strength is remarkably compelling and relatable. Wang skillfully weaves in Chinese cultural traditions and proverbs as well as Pinyin romanization and tones. Additional materials include notes on the transliteration as well as suggested further reading.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 23, 2021
    A few months before the novel begins, the death of beloved Huā family matriarch Nǎinai sends the fate of Taiwanese American family bakery Golden Phoenix into a tailspin in this carefully woven middle grade debut by Wang (Watercress). After Huā Měilán, 12, tells her cousin a bedtime story that instigates a family feud over finances, her father and his siblings sell the Boston Chinatown–based bakery. Měilán, her parents, and her widowed grandfather subsequently embark on an East Coast road trip ending in rural Rosebud, Ohio. Mourning the fracturing of her family, Lan—rechristened Melanie by her new middle school principal—swears off storytelling as she struggles to acclimate into an unfamiliar all-white environment and navigate her identity within her family and the world. Denoted in Pinyin, Mandarin dialogue and Chinese proverbs pepper the narrative, along with folkloric elements and allusions; Měilán’s compartmentalization is cleverly rendered in different readings of her name. The book can feel slightly overstuffed at times, but Lan’s encounters with microaggressions and racism are all too real in this gently fantastical tale. Back matter includes an author’s note on transliteration, a glossary of Mama’s proverbs, and additional resources. Ages 9–12. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary.

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