Sunday, May 12, 2024

Lily Xiao Speaks Out

Chen, Nicole. Lily Xiao Speaks Out
May 7, 2024 by HarperCollins/Quill Tree
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the early 1990s, Lily Xiao is heavily into grunge rock, and wants to be like Eddie Vedder or Pearl Jam. This is something of a struggle, since her Taiwanese family is much more concerned with her academic success. While Lily does fine in school, her cousin Vivian, who has just moved to the US, is struggling with assignments because she is still improving her English language skills. When Lily finds a "Camp Rock Out" summer camp that promises to held her learn guitar, Lily really wants to attend with Vivian, who plays drums. The families make a deal with the girls, thanks to Lily's supportive grandmother, Ah-ma; if the girls do well in school, they can attend the camp. Lily even contacts Vivian's teacher to ask for help, and when he tells her that since California's 1986 Proposition 63, there are no ESL services. Since Lily is a model student, she even takes her concerns to the principal, who not only tells her there is no money in the budget for services, but also insinuates that since Vivian's family chose to come to the US, they are the ones responsible for her language challenges. Lily works with other students, including Marcos, a "skater boy", to tutor students and to gather signatures for a petition asking for services. With the help of Keiko, who words at the local record store and performs with an all girl grunge band called Pandora's Box, Lily works on her grunge music skills but also starts to find her own voice to speak up for the oppressed. If grunge music is about "shining light into the dark corners that people don't like to see", will Lily and Vivian be able to use the power of their music to instigate change in their family and community?
Strengths: If you have students who are super into the grunge rock of the 1990s, this is definitely the book for them! Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and other groups are all mentioned. The role of women in rock music is discussed in a way that will hopefully make young readers take a closer look at music today, and perhaps encourage them to take a deep dive into their parents' music! There are plenty of good details of the 1990s, with fashions and other cultural touchpoints that took me right back to my first years of teaching, when my students showed me how to peg my pants! The family dynamics in Lily and Vivian's family are interesting, and I loved that Ah-ma wanted them both to do well but was more lenient than their parents. Lily's combination of music and social activism, while rooted firmly in the 1990s, will certainly resonate with today's young readers.
Weaknesses: There is a lot about grunge music, and this might slow the story down for readers who are not as interested in it.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed retro music themed books like Acampora's Confusion is Nothing New or Perez's The First Rule of Punk, or who want to take a look at the troubling racial policies of California in the 1980s and 90s, as depicted in Cho's Troublemaker, Yang's Three Keys, or Tang's Parachute Kids.

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