I have to admit that the unnecessary chopsticky font and the strangely-eerie illustrations set me off temporarily, but the old adage ‘never trust a book by its cover’ proved true in this case: this real-life story is well worth your attention.
Mei Ling lives in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, where her family operates a restaurant in China City – also known as Chinese Movie Land – created by Hollywood as its version of Chinese village life. The celluloid translation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, for example, was filmed in part in China City with its yellowfaced stars. Oh, don’t get me started …
Digression aside, Mei Ling is missing her best friend Yayeko who has been shipped off with her family to Manzanar, a prison camp for Americans of Japanese descent, following the signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The girls write each other as often as they can, and can only hope they will see each other again someday.
For now, Mei Ling’s life in China City revolves around her family restaurant where she waitresses after school. She prepares for the upcoming Moon Festival by running errands, meets friends along the way, joins in on the fundraising drive to help women and children refugees in China, and even meets legendary Chinese American actress Anna May Wong who writes a sizable donation in support of United China Relief. Still, thoughts of Yayeko are never far, as Mei Ling narrates her life to her faraway friend.
So will the girls finally reunite? Before you can get your answer, author Smith provides a historical overview of 1940s China City and Manzanar, with a note about the United China Relief campaign. She’s also managed to dig up eight pages of black-and-white period photos, far more evocative and informative than the illustrations.
I won’t spoil the final page for you: suffice it to say that you must check out the second printing of this book … but know that the original many-award-winning edition had an indispensable role in making the second-time-around incredibly phenomenal. Now go solve the mystery … and be amazed (yet again) at the power of words on the printed page!
Readers: Children, Middle Grade
Published: 2008, 2010 (second edition)