Monday, May 06, 2024

MMGM- With Twice the Love, Dessie Mae and Exclusion and the Chinese American Story

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Chen, Justina. With Twice the Love, Dessie Mae
May 7, 2024 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Dessie Mae moves with her family to Seattle, she's not thrilled, but knows that it's important for them to be near her grandmother, who has descended into dementia after the grandfather's death. Dessie was adopted from Hunan, China when she was two, and has two older brothers who have not moved with the family. Her father composes music for video games, and her mother plays the music, so the family life is fairly unstructured and members talk to each other casually. When she starts school, many people call her "Donna", which confuses her until she meets Donna, who looks exactly like her. Dessie had dismissed this, since she was one of very few students of Asian descent at her old school and thought this might have been a slur. Donna has also been adopted from China, and has the same birthday, so the two become fast friends and scheme to get a DNA test. Donna's family, including her Amah who is from Taiwan, is very strict, and since she has a younger brother who is the biological child of her parents, she is very worried about being the perfect student so they continue to love her. Both girls are huge fans of the band A2Z, and are working on a school project where they have to design a family crest, as a warmup to a competition to design a logo for their school, the name of which was recently changed from Sheridan to Marian Anderson Middle School. After Amah sees Dessie fight with her parents, she won't allow Donna to be friends with her, which does make Dessie think about the way her family communicates. When Amah is brutally attacked at the Pike Place Market in a racially motivated attack, the school, as well as Dessie's family, rallies around. Dessie finds out that her grandmother was a very vocal advocate for social equality back in the day, and the scarf that she wove for Dessie incorporates part of a sweater that she frequently wore to rallies. Dessie's parents, who are afraid that she will want to be a part of Donna's family because of their shared ethnic heritage, think that going to a rally to her Donna speak is too dangerous. When the band A2Z has a racist lyric in their new song, Dessie is appalled, and comments on their social media. The band replies and apologizes, making Dessie momentarily famous. Will Dessie be able to make peace with Donna as well as heal the problems within her own family?
Strengths: Just about all middle school students secretly want to have a twin... except those who actually do! Any book that posits the idea of a twin you didn't know about will be instantly popular! I liked that the families were very different, and it was interesting to see that Dessie's parents hadn't made any effort at all to offer Chinese cultural opportunities to her. The fact that their style of communication was too flippant and snappish was something that should be explored more in middle grade books, because I see a LOT of that kind of interactions from students, which is why I always try to model very polite conversations! Amah's attitude was understandable, but it was good to see that she was able to change her mind. Dessie's grandmother was involved in marches to support the Asian Community after the death of Vincent Chin in 1982, which was an good historical inclusion.
Weaknesses: Ten years ago or more, I did see the occasional student who had been adopted from China or Russia, but there has been a marked decrease in that population. I did appreciate that Chen wrote this in part because she has stepdaughters who were adopted from China into a white family.
What I really think: This incorporates the long lost twin scenario of Siddiqui's Bhai for Now, the social activism of Bajaj's Count Me In, the adoption from China storyline of Peacock's Red Thread Sisters, and agrandmother with dementia similar to the ones in Campbell's Rule of Threes or Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.

Blackburn, Sarah-Soonling. Exclusion and the Chinese American Story 
March 26, 2024 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Blackburn starts this book with a note acknowledging that Chinese American history, and the experience of Chinese Americans, isn't something that is monolithic. Even the identification of being "Chinese American" can pertain to a wide range of people. Still, because of the dire lack of information about this population (which numbers over five million people), it is important to have books like the Race to the Truth series to fill in gaps that racism and prejudice have left in standard history textbooks. 

This has an array of stories on a variety of different people and events, and aims to be intersectional and to encourage readers to think critically about history. Starting with the possible (although unlikely) visit of Hui Shen to the North American in 499 CE, and the arrival of Afong May, a woman who was used to advertise imported Chinese goods in the 1800s, we see interesting snippets of history that don't get the attention they deserve. Larger events, like the influx of Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush, and during the building of the railroads, and life in the new Chinatowns in San Francisco and Los Angeles are all covered. There are many interesting historical anecdotes and discussions of what life was like during various periods of history. 

There was lots of information presented that I didn't know much about: the reasons why so many Chinese Americans had laundry and food related businesses, the various legislation controlling the number of immigrants, or the way that Chinese Americans were forced to live, and stories of people like Martha Lum and Wong Kim Ark, whose lives were deeply impacted by the mores and laws of the times in which they lived. 

This goes up to the present day and the ill treatment of Asian Americans from many different backgrounds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It fills in needed gaps in a conversational and engaging way. Narrative nonfiction can sometimes be hard a hard sell for middle grade readers, but this definitely moved quickly and was interesting. It would have been nice to see a few more photographs, although there are a few, and a historical photograph on the cover would have been a big plus. 

We're starting to see more collective biographies of Asian Americans,  like Yang's Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country, and other historical books covering previously hidden history, like Goldstone's Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment. It's good to see a variety of these Race to the Truth books penned by authors who share the background of their topics.  Exclusion would also be a good nonfiction pairing with fiction text that discuss similar topics surrounding immigration and the Chinese American experience like Shang's The Secret Battle of Evan Pao, Yee's Maizy Chen's Last Chance and Park's Prairie Lotus.


  1. Both of these books look like they'd be great reads. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I hadn't heard of Dessie Mae before, but this is the second review I've seen of the book today! I definitely want to pick this up, and I agree that the secret twin storyline will really appeal to middle grade readers.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. Exclusion and the Chinese American Story sounds like an interesting read. I adopted my daughter from China and enjoy reading stories Chinese and Chinese Americans' experiences.

  4. With Twice the Love, Dessie Mei sounds like such an intriguing read—how cool that it explores topics like interracial adoption, and racism, and family communication, and has a fun secret-twin plot line to boot! Exclusion and the Chinese American Story sounds great too—the things you mention not knowing much about are things I don't know much about either, and it would be fascinating to learn more about them. I'm glad more books like that one are being created to fill that void in the nonfiction world. Thank you so much for the thoughtful reviews, Karen, and enjoy your week!

  5. I really like the new Race to the Truth series, though I wish more students checked them out! I'll make sure to get this new one.

    On your comment on UR you mentioned The Selection being paranormalish, but it isn't. It is a bit dystopian. It truly is a fun series!