Sunday, September 12, 2021

Not Here to be Liked and Danny Chung Sums it Up

Quach, Michelle. Not Here to be Liked
September 14th 2021 by Harper Children's

Eliza doesn't have a lot of patience with the superficiality of high school. She's determined to use her career on the school newspaper to get elected editor her senior year, and doesn't want to dilute her energies by worrying about what she's wearing or about boys. Her Chinese Vietnamese mother doesn't feel the same way; she doesn't understand why Eliza can't make more of an effort and wear something that an oversized, gray cardigan. When Eliza loses the editorial position to ex-jock Len, her mother thinks she is right. Eliza has other thoughts-- the school is notoriously biased against females in positions of power and authority, and she writes an editorial about this. Unfortunately, someone posts this on the school paper's web site. There's less fall out than you might suspect, although Eliza does have to meet with the principal, who just wants her and Len to work things out between themselves. Len, who had to quit baseball because of an injury, feels that he won the election on his own merits, although he concedes that Eliza certainly has more writing experience that he does. The two are assigned an interview with a new boba tea shop's owners, and are also working on a school project together. Despite herself, Eliza finds herself enjoying Len's company. When Eliza and her friends plan a school wide protest over the the inequity of representation in school groups, will this get her any closer to the editorial position... and any further away from Len?

This was an interesting look at a range of high school group dynamics, with a range of cultural backgrounds. This is set in Southern California, and Eliza tells us that the most popular kids are the ones of Korean descent, since they make up the majority of the student body. Eliza's parents are of Chinese descent, but come from Vietnam. Len has a Japanese mother and a white father. In addition to the newspaper, we also get a glimpse into the inner workings of student government, and see the drive to succeed that many of the students in the school have. 

Eliza is a very practical young woman, and doesn't have any interest in "being pretty" like her sister Kim. It interferes with her work on the newspaper, and since she is motivated to make the Wall of Editors so she will go down in posterity, she's rather spend her time on her investigative journalism. It's great to see this kind of passion in a high school student, even if I have to tell her that in 20 years, no one will even notice her picture in the Wall of Editors. (Says someone who was once very proud of being included on the Senior Service Award plaque in high school orchestra. I'm sure that after 40 years, the plaque is long gone!)

Even though Len is a bit annoying, and Eliza has more pressing matters to concern her, there is some romance. This makes sense. It's high school. She and Len have a lot in common, and do get along in a lot of ways. I appreciated that it wasn't one of these love/hate relationships that are so common in teen literature. Sure, she's annoyed by him, but he's cute and interesting. And interested in her. This is a pretty solid basis for a high school relationship. 

There are lots of middle grade books about school newspapers, which seems odd to me, but it makes perfect sense to center a book around the much more prevalent high school newspaper scene. Hand this to readers who enjoyed Smith's Hearts Unbroken, Lehrman's The Last Best Story, or Doktorski's Famous Last Words. This also put me a little in mind of Goo's The Way You Make Me Feel, but with the newspaper instead of a food truck, mainly because I think Clara and Eliza would get along well. 

Chan, Maisie. Danny Chung Sums it Up 
September 7th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Danny lives with his parents in an apartment in Birmingham, England. His parents, immigrants from China, have a takeaway downstairs, and work long hours. Danny struggles to meet their high expectations of him; he would rather draw comics with his best friend, Ravi, than study math so he can get a better job when he grows up, although he understands how hard his parents' lives are. When they say they have a surprise for him, and even get a set of bunk beds for his room from a family friend, he is hopeful, but the surprise does not turn out to be a pleasant one. His father's mother, Nai Nai, is going to live with them, and she even takes the top bunk in his room. Not only that, but Danny is expected to show her around town and take her to social events like lawn bowling. Instead, on a recommendation from takeaway customer Mrs. Cruikshanks, he takes her to Bingo instead. Nai Nai enjoys Bingo a lot, although there are some other players who are not happy to see her and are racially prejudiced. Danny is having trouble with a math project for a big competition, but since Nai Nai is very good with numbers, he gets some help from her. Will Danny, with Nai Nai's help, find a way to balance the things that he loves with the things his parents think are important?
Strengths: Kids following their passions, dealing with real life struggles, and going about their days with good humor. This describes about 80% of the books that circulate in my library, but only about 20% of the books that are published. (These are not very scientific statistics, but just ball park.) I love that we are no longer see characters that are like Henry Huggins, but are seeing better representation across cultures, identities, and abilities. Danny isn't thrilled to have his grandmother there, but warms to her. I particularly liked Nellie Cruikshanks for some reason, and teared up at the ending! There are a lot of books about children interested in the arts, but at least Danny realizes that math isn't as bad as he has always thought. This is also my favorite sort of book to read, and when I was young, I was enthralled with the "exotic" details, like living in an apartment, or in somewhere like Birmingham!
Weaknesses: This was very similar to Shang's The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, but with drawing instead of basketball, and set in England. 
What I really think: I'm debating, since this seems a tiny bit young. Since it is an interesting, up beat story, I might buy a copy knowing that it will take some hand selling. My readers who also like to draw will find it especially interesting.

Ms. Yingling

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