I love a story within a story!
At the start of Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, 11-year-old Maizy and her mom travel from their home in Los Angeles to Last Chance, Minnesota where her Oma and Opa run The Golden Palace–a restaurant that’s been in the family for generations.. Although her mom has a strained relationship with her parents, Opa is sick.
In addition to being homesick, Maizy experiences bullying and racism as part of the only family of colour in Last Chance. Despite this–or perhaps because of it–Maizy learns about herself, her Asian-American family and some of extreme injustices faced by Chinese immigrants.
That might sound like a lot of learning but the relationship that develops between Maizy and Opa makes it natural and easy. The story of Lucky (Maizy’s great-great grandfather), who came to America in 1869, is told through chapters interspersed within the larger narrative.
As Opa tells “Lucky stories” Maizy figures out how to play poker and make custom fortune cookies. She writes personalized fortunes that do everything from making customers smile to mending old relationships to nudging people toward their dreams.
This middle grade novel covers a lot of ground including the legacy of Paper Sons, an important piece of Chinese American history. The book has humor and nuance–seen in Maizy’s growing understanding of people’s “tells” and introduction to “worming”–but doesn’t shy away from though topics like death and hate crime. Lisa Yee includes an author’s note at the end, providing information on her family, research she did for the novel and a recipe for Cream Cheese Wontons.
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance deserves to be a Newbery Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist (and it’s impossible to read without craving Chinese food!). Although it’s a page-turner, I suggest taking time to absorb all the emotion and sensory detail. As Opa says, ” You can’t rush marinating char sip, and you can’t rush a Lucky story.”