Thursday, June 16, 2011


The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Scholastic Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

An ancient Chinese commentary states that “Harmony is like making congee. One uses water, fire, vinegar, sauce, salt and plum to cook fish and meat, and burns firewood and stalks as fuel for the cooking process. The cook blends these ingredients harmoniously to achieve the appropriate flavor.” In this enthralling book, we get to watch Lucy Wu take the disparate ingredients that have come her way at the beginning of 6th grade and, with some guidance from idioms that she learns in Chinese school, blend them together to make it her best year ever.

When we meet Lucy, she is focused on her love of basketball and the prospect of having a room to herself after her sister, Regina, goes off to college. But then her much-loved recently-deceased grandmother’s previously-unknown sister comes to visit from China for several months, and shares her room. Her parents insist that she go to a new Chinese school that is at the same time as her beloved basketball league’s practice. And an underhanded arch-nemesis at school works hard to find ways to make her give up on her dream of being the 6th grade basketball team captain.

Lucy’s relationship with her great aunt is central to the story. They get off to a rocky start, with a “great wall” of furniture between them down the middle of Lucy’s room, and it is heartwarming to watch their relationship become warm and loving through shared experiences.

Noodle soup also has a key role in the story, and Lucy’s feelings about Chinese food and American food reflect her struggles to integrate her Chinese heritage into her American life. At the start of the book, her sister Regina, who founded a Chinese Culture and Language Society in the high school, calls her a “banana … yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” But we see her gradually embrace this side of herself as she improves her Mandarin skills, learns more about Chinese and Chinese-American history, and gets to know her great aunt better.

Parts of the story brought back strong memories for me. Unplanned dumpling making at Lucy’s birthday party perfectly evoked Chinese New Year in Harbin with my partner’s mother. Lucy’s older brother is heavily steered by his parents towards math and engineering, since he has shown some talents, even though he is more interested in history. And I could really relate to the class outcast, Talent, who (unlike me in 6th grade) is eventually brought into the fold by Lucy and her friends.

In summary, the author has blended her ingredients harmoniously to achieve a wonderful book. I loved it, and recommend that everyone read it!


A note from the guest reviewer, Dave Hahn: I'm Mary Lee's brother and I loved this book. But why should you pay attention to me? Unlike Mary Lee, I don't teach elementary school, I don't have a master's in children's literature, I'm not the outgoing president of the Notables committee, I'm not the coauthor of a long-running children's literature blog, and this list could go on for quite a while. But I have always loved reading, it is hard for authors to impress me, and I have had a lot of experiences that parallel Lucy's. In particular, I am learning Mandarin, and love all kinds of Chinese food.


  1. I have now added this book to my "must read" list. I just finished two of Lisa See's adult fiction books that were set in China. I just finished one of them - Dreams of Joy - right before reading this review. I was feeling sad that I was finished but this review perked me right up. I will also see if my 5th grade/going into 6th grade daughter would like to try it, also. Thanks!

  2. Dave,
    I am pretty sure I should listen to you because you have done a wonderful job of helping me to love Lucy's character before I have read the book ---- and because you are Mary Lee's brother. ;o) Thank you for sharing your delightful take on "The Great Wall of Lucy Wu."

    Perhaps you should have a "spin-off" blog.

    Hmmm, now I am wondering if I can get my brother to guest post for me.

    Thanks for sharing,

  3. Thanks for the comments! Writing this review was more challenging than I expected, but also more rewarding.

    @Jill - I hope that you and your daughter like the book as much as I did! I'll have to check out the Lisa See books.

    @Cathy - Thanks for your kind comments. Blogging could be addictive...

  4. Did really love this one, and made sure that Lucy did not spend the entire summer shelved next to Darren Shan. can't wait to see what Wendy will write next.

  5. Dave, you may not have all those things you listed for ML, but after reading your review, I went to the library and got the book. It is my current #bookaday read. Thanks for being a guest reviewer - very fun!


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