The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng immediately caught my eye when I spied it on the new books rack at the library. I mean, given the cover, which is decorated with the covers of many of my own personal favorite children’s books, and the title, how could I resist? It turns out that this is a very simply told story of friendship, including its difficultites and pitfalls. The bonus is that it’s written from the perspective of a girl who truly loves reading, much like my own dear children. It’s also the story of a Chinese-American family trying to figure out where it fits in American society. Anna Wang, her brother Ken, and her father do not speak Chinese; her mother is mastering English, with all its confusing idioms. Anna goes to Chinese school on Saturdays after she helps her mother at her cleaning job, but really, all she wants to do is read. She is navigating the murky waters of fourth-grade friendships in which alliances can obviously turn on a dime. Her third-grade friend Laura has moved on to being friends with the more popular Allison and Lucy, which is confusing to Anna. However, because of her love for fictional worlds, Anna is able to survive these elementary school crises with minimal angst ,and when Laura really needs a friend because of family problems, Anna has to decide how to respond.
There’s more to the story than this, of course–there’s a multigenerational element that’s refreshing because of Anna and her mom’s care for their elderly employer. There’s also Anna’s friendship with Ray, the adult crossing guard at her school who sometimes seems like her only real friend. Anna is a smart girl who is good at written expression, and that comes through in the story, too. It’s a very simple story, really, despite the Mean Girl element and the twists and turns of female friendships. Some of the elements–like the immigrant one–are a little less fully realized than I would’ve liked, but for the low end of the intended audience (grade 2-6), I think it’s an excellent story. In the end, the element that entirely won me over in this short and simple story is the books:
Laura takes a deep breath and looks up. “Allison said she and Lucy don’t like me anymore.”
I know I should say it’s not true, but how do I know? Allison and Lucy were whispering today and looking over at Laura.
“I’m not like you are,” she whispers. “You’re so. . . I don’t know.” She smooths back her hair. “You’re tough.”
“You seem like you are.”
I look at the floor. “I just like to read.”
What bookworm wouldn’t identify with that? It’s a quiet story that sort of sneaks up on you and makes you really like Anna and her family by the time you read the last page. (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Reviews elsewhere and related links:
- Andrea Cheng’s website
- Review at The Cath in the Hat
- Review at Sharpread
- Review at The Wielded Pen–Children’s Corner