A Chinese language American Woman Learns That Her Title Accommodates Multitudes

A Chinese language American Woman Learns That Her Title Accommodates Multitudes

By Andrea Wang

As a toddler, I learn each guide I may get my arms on from the kids’s part of the Brooklyn Public Library, beginning with A and dealing my method by means of to Z. However a lot as I cherished Anne Shirley of Inexperienced Gables, Jo March, Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew, part of me was looking for one other Chinese language American woman like myself. I didn’t discover her. So it was with pleasure that I learn Andrea Wang’s debut center grade novel, “The Many Meanings of Meilan.”

After seventh grader Meilan Hua’s beloved grandmother dies, a household combat erupts that leads to Meilan, her dad and mom and her grandfather transferring from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio. They’re “just like the water within the Niagara River — speeding away from the supply of our power and dropping over the sting solely to splash down in some unusual place.” The one Asian American in her new college, Meilan by no means imagined there may nonetheless be locations like this, the place she is “one drop of paint on a white canvas.” She is promptly renamed Melanie with out her consent by the principal, whom she sees as a fox demon, and turns into a “new-made creature, this Melanie, half this and half that, half right here and half nowhere in any respect.”

Wang (whose image guide “Watercress” faucets comparable themes) creates a wealthy imaginary world for her heroine. Whilst Meilan navigates microaggressions and racism along with the same old trials going through a brand new pupil getting into an insular group, her inside panorama is populated by a Chinese language phoenix, a tree spirit, a snake sprite. When she realizes there are a number of homophones of her Mandarin identify, she adopts them, fracturing her id into Mist, who is aware of tips on how to be invisible; Basket, the provider of her dad and mom’ desires; and Blue, who acknowledges her true ideas and feelings. It’s only on the finish of the guide that these variations “spin and weave collectively, coalescing right into a shimmery human-shaped type. A me-shaped type.”

All through, I delighted within the methods Meilan is each Chinese language and American. A typical packed college lunch consists of “thick slices of pork stomach cooked in soy sauce on a mattress of white rice.” Her mom spouts sensible aphorisms resembling “Bushes want peace, however wind by no means cease.” On the primary anniversary of Meilan’s grandmother’s demise, the household cooks a ritual feast to honor her spirit. And but the guide which means essentially the most to Meilan is one she’s assigned in English class: Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea,” during which Ged (the wizard) makes himself entire by naming his shadow and realizing his true self.

Whereas it tackles points resembling racism, Wang’s novel is about discovering frequent floor. Meilan and her white pal Logan evaluate issues their moms have mentioned to them and notice “mothers have the identical language even when they don’t communicate the identical language.” Small references to objects like a trainer’s great-grandmother’s Tausenblättertorte, a German thousand-leaves cake, remind the reader that the majority Individuals possess an immigrant previous. When Meilan contemplates her chief antagonist, the principal, she thinks: “I see that he’s carrying round a variety of weight, together with the ache of what occurred to his uncle. He’s Basket in his personal life.”

The little woman I used to be would have been thrilled to come across Meilan and her many names in a guide. Maybe I, too, would have felt “seen and weak but additionally proud.” And having discovered a personality who embraces the complexity of being each Chinese language and American, I’d have been capable of echo her phrases: “I’m not alone.”

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