Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Great Destroyers

Richmond, Caroline Tung. The Great Destroyers
August 3rd 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this alternate history, Josephine Lindner is an excellent mecha fighter, but in the early 1960s, it's hard for girls to excel in this sport. She would love to play in the Pax Games that were instituted after WWII, but since she lives in a poorer neighborhood, her school team has never brought her to prominence. Her late mother was Chinese, and her repair shop owner father is white, which has led to some prejudice, although Jo is often able to "pass" and gets comments that perhaps she has some Mediterranean ancestry. In order to get money for her family, she participates in an illegal mecha fight, but that is raided by the police, and she loses the money she earns for it in her flight from the law. When Senator Appleby, who has recently taken over for her husband after his passing, shows up, Jo is worried, but it turns out that the senator was a mecha coach and also wants to champion the accomplishments of girls and women. When a competitor for the US team is injured, Senator Appleby offers a position to Jo! Soon, she's whisked off to Washington, D.C. for the games, but the don't go smoothly. There's Cold War tension, discrimination because she is female, and then problems with competitors being attacked! Jo is close to a couple of the other fighters before they are indisposed, and comes under scrutiny. She works with her teammate, Sam, whose family is very wealthy, to improve her fighting. Even though each country has a team, the competition is individual, which helps Jo when her background finally comes to light, just as she is the only US team member left in the fight. Will she be able to bring home the victory for the US team, and solve the mystery of the sabotage as well?
Strengths: Alternate history is a great way to bring attention to modern issues in a historical context, and adding a Mid Century Modern Steampunk feel was very fun. Jo's economically disadvantaged background contrasts nicely with Sam's privileged one and brings focus to inequities. I loved Senator Appleby, and her background as a mecha coach. Her rise into office makes sense for the time period, and certainly by 1963, things were starting to change a bit for women. (A couple of years later, my mother refused to quite her teaching job because she was pregnant, and was successful in staying in her position even after my brother and I were born.) Certainly, after WWII, there was even more prejudice against people from Asian countries than there is now, and I appreciated that Jo is able to work in a lesson with her coach about not using "Oriental" to refer to people. The sabotage and the mystery surrounding it made the pages turn quickly, and showcased a lot of the fears during this era. 
Weaknesses: I could not for the life of me envision the mecha fighting... suits? This made some of the battles hard to follow. I would have needed a diagram, I think! Also, this would be more engaging for students who have a little background in the Cold War, which in Ohio isn't usually studied until high school. 
What I really think: This is a bit on the long side, but there is a growing interest in the Cold War with my students, especially those taking the compacted 8th grade history class. This won't circulate wildly in my library, but it will be a big hit with the right readers. It's a good combination of Zhao's Last Gamer Standing, Chen's Ultraball, and Blackwood's Year of the Hangman. Richmond has a number of other war and alternate history titles, like The Darkest Hour. 

Wang, Andrea. The Many Meanings of Meilan
August 17th 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meilan Hua's family is struggling after the death of her grandmother, and the family business, the Golden Phoenix bakery, is a major article of contention. Although Meilan's father, Bàba  runs the bakery and employs several other family members, they suspect there is more money than he is letting on, especially after Meilan tells her younger cousin a story about gold coins. Finally, the family sells the bakery, and the Huas take off to visit a variety of friends and relatives, with her grandfather,  Gōnggong in tow. Eventually, they end up in the small town of Redbud, Ohio, where several signs, including a job as a pastry chef and a small house to rent, lead Bàba to want to settle there. Meilan is less convinced, especially once her mother takes her to register at the school. The principal, Mr. Reynard, is very offputting, and even suggests that Meilan is too foreign a name, and that she should go by Melanie. The teachers are not very sympathetic, either, with some exceptions. Meilan misses her family in Boston, and is determined to fly under the radar in her new school, where some bullies, like Liam, try to make her feel unwelcome. Liam's twin brother, Logan, is quite nice, even though Meilan doesn't trust him at first. There are a couple of school projects; reading The Wizard of Earthsea is enjoyable, but the Veteran's Day project is uncomfortable. Meilan wants to interview Gōnggong , who was in the military during the Vietnam Conflict, but he doesn't want to talk about the past. Meilan makes a plan with Logan to introduce the school report, but Liam gets in the way. When a courtyard at school is vandalized, Meilan is blamed and suspended, although Liam did it. On the anniversary of her grandmother's death, things are still in turmoil, and her grandfather is missing just as a tornado approaches the town. Even if she finds her grandfather and keeps him safe, will the new town ever feel like home? 
Strengths: This had a level of family controversy I've not seen in middle grade fiction, but definitely happens in real life, especially when it comes to money and inheritance. The closeness of the extended family, as well as the extensive cultural background, was fascinating and great to see. There's a lot of transliterated Mandarin, and a nice list of sayings at the back of the book. While the principal was quite prejudiced, and Liam was most unpleasant, there are other characters who interact in a variety of ways. Logan really tries to understand, but there are very few Chinese people in town. He doesn't want to offend Meilan, but he still does. I'm glad that the Veterans' Day project works out, but I'm glad that we no longer do one at my school. Lots of timely and current issues are addressed. 
Weaknesses: I wish this were set in Anytown, USA, in order to give it a more universal feel. These kinds of issues don't happen only in small town Ohio. It did seem odd that a teacher would assign The Wizard of Earthsea (1968), but since we're slowly weaning teachers after The Outsiders (1967), I guess I shouldn't be surprised. 
What I really think: This is a good title about family and racial issues to include along with Bajaj's Count Me In, Colbert's The Only Black Girls in Town, Yun's Pippa Park Raises Her Game, and Meija's Paola Santiago series. 

Another teacher work day. I figure that the teachers will all have realized what needs fixed in their rooms, so I will be crawling on the floor AND on top of things, hence the rare appearance of Lee jeans (2019, $3). 

The upcycled vest was a summer project, and has a pocket for my phone. During the school year, my phone lives in my backpack, so teachers should know not to text me, but the vest has a pocket for when I need to carry a phone. I love Lands End shirts, but have a strict $2 limit on them. The quilt pin is from a friend. 

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