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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Lucy Wu is a 6th grader, prepared to have the best year of her life—as a 6th grader she’s going to “rule the school,” basketball season is going to start again and her “perfect” sister is leaving for college so she will have her room all to herself!  Then her parents announce her grandmother’s sister, Yi Po, is coming to stay for a few months and she will share Lucy’s room, her parents decide she must go to Chinese school instead of play basketball and a malicious 6th grade bully makes Lucy her new target.

Lucy’s voice is absolutely authentic. The “Great Wall of Lucy Wu” is created when Lucy lines up her bookcase and other furniture down the middle of her bedroom to separate Yi Po’s side from her side.   As  Lucy begins to make connections between her life and Yi Po’s life her understanding of what it means to be human and to grow up blooms in both heartwarming and heartbreaking moments–with a generous dash of hilarity spinkled in.

Lucy struggles to establish her own identity:  what does it mean for her to be a Chinese-American? What role does basketball have in her life? Can the two things co-exist? Wrapped up in her own frustrations and hurt feelings Lucy is not always kind to the friends and family that surround her.  We have all experienced times in our lives when our own needs, wants and worries overwhelm us at the expense of those around us.  Lucy’s journey is our journey as well when she begins to realize that she has misjudged her situation and some very important people in her life.

The plotting and narration of the story is exquisite from beginning to end.  The way Lucy navigates the destruction of her expectations and discovers the unexpected gifts that appear in their stead is perfectly rendered in this author’s debut children’s book.  This is a great read-aloud for 5th/6th grade and an excellent independent read for elementary readers.

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