Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Anna May Wong and A Glasshouse of Stars

Yoo, Paula. The Story of Movie Star: Anna May Wong 
January 1st 2019 by Lee & Low Books
Library copy

As a young girl in the early 1900s, Anna May was enthralled with the burgeoning film industry. She lived with her parents in Los Angeles' Chinatown, where they ran a laundry. Movie making looked far more glamorous, and even though her father wanted her to be a secretary, she looked for jobs as an extra in movies, persevering until she got a role in one. Unfortunately, Chinese Americans were negatively portrayed in many films, and because of laws forbidding difference races from kissing on screen, roles were often filled with white actors to avoid this issue. Wong decided to move to China to avoid this sort of discrimination, but returned to Hollywood in 1937 to fight for equal representation. She continued to act until her death in 1961, at the age of 56, and only accepted what she perceived to be positive roles, paving the way for other Asian American actors. 
Strengths: This would be a great nonfiction title to pair with Nesbet's Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen or Wiley's The Nerviest Girl in the World for coverage of early Hollywood and filming. There's just enough about both, as well as about the racial discrimination of the day, to get readers interested in learning more. Lee and Low's The Story Of biographies have an interesting range of titles and should be included in elementary libraries where Who Was books are popular but a little more cultural diversity is needed. 
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of illustrations in biographies, but I understand why they are used. There are a few photographs. 
What I really think: I wouldn't mind a longer biography of this actor, but this will be a great choice for my readers who are interested in the history of film and who just want a shorter book. 

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars
Published June 29th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meixing Lim and her family inherit a house in the New Land from her mother's brother, who died of a heart attack while tending oranges in the yard. Ma Ma is pregnant, and Ba Ba (her father) struggles to find work, taking heavy manual labor he isn't used to. The family has difficulty with the new language and customs, and are helped a good deal by Mrs. Huynh, who is also from a different country, but not the one from which they hail. Her food is similar, and she is kind enough to help Meixing with a school uniform, and provides the family with many other kinds of support. School is filled with children who are unkind and make fun of Meixing's food, clothing, language abilities. One girl even steals a gold ring that belonged to Meixing's grandmother, and the teacher believes her over Meixing when a friend steals it back. When a tragedy occurs in the family, Mrs. Huynh once again helps, but relatives also arrive. The house, which she calls the Big Scary, seems to have magical abilities to increase in size to accommodate all of the relatives. Ma Ma's health is fragile, and her pregnancy seems challenging, and it takes a while for her to get back on her footing to take care of Meixing. Josh and Kevin eventually befriend Meixing at school, and she has a supportive teacher, Ms. Jardine. The glasshouse in the garden has portal like abilities that allow Meixing to talk to people from her past, including the uncle who passed away. There is a very frightening episode where older boys attack Meixing and her mother, but eventually Ma Ma has her baby, and a younger aunt offers to come and live near the family to help out. 
Strengths: I am always looking for books about various types of immigrant experiences, and this is one to add to titles like Sheth's Blue Jasmine, Lai's Pie in the Sky, Freeman's One Good Thing About America, Yang's Front Desk, and Behar's Lucky Broken Girl. It's also a rare example of a middle grade novel in the 2nd person. 
Weaknesses: This is the most trauma filled immigrant tale that I have read. My heart broke for Meixing, although it was good to see that there were kind people in their lives like Mrs. Huynh, Ms. Jardine, and the aunt. 
What I really think: This felt much more like an adult novel about a younger character than a middle grade novel. It also had a decidedly Australian feel. 

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