Scattergood, Augusta. Making Friends with Billy Wong
August 30th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Azalea is looking forward to spending the summer hanging out with her best friend at home in Texas, but when her Grandmother Clark falls, she is sent to help her out in tiny Paris Junction. It's the 1950s, and she is surprised to see a Chinese boy hanging around town. It turns out that he is helping out his uncle, who runs the local grocery, in exchange for being able to go to school in town. In the smaller town where his parents run a grocery, he is forced to go to the substandard Negro school, where there are fewer opportunities. Azalea becomes friends with Billy, but is less thrilled with Willis, who steals gum, throws things at people, and is generally unpleasant. There are, of course, reasons for his behavior, but even once she discovers them, it's hard for Azalea to become friends with Willis. Her grandmother's health improves somewhat, and the two make an uneasy peace, although Azalea still longs for her mother and father. When Billy's uncle's store is attacked, Azalea is somewhat surprised but pleased that most of the town supports the family.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details of daily life in the 1950s, but more importantly, it discussed how people of Chinese descent (some of whom had probably been in the country far long than my German and English ancestors!) were treated. It's surprising that students often have no clue about things like this, so it's good to have books that highlight how much things have changed for the better. Sure, there is still progress to be made, but this fills a much needed gap.
Weaknesses: Willis was a difficult, if realistic character who didn't really change. In fact, most of the characters seemed pretty static, although it seemed like they might change. I also suspected that something bigger was going on with Azalea's parents, but that didn't seem to be the case.
What I really think: I will buy a copy, but it will require a lot of hand selling. The cover doesn't really make it look like historical fiction, and I'm not sure if that will help or hurt.