Meilan Hua’s world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family’s beloved matriarch, Nainai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston’s Chinatown; and the Chinese fairy tales Meilan is obsessed with. After Nainai passes, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather on the road in search of a new home. They take a winding path cross-country before landing in Redbud, Ohio. Everything in Redbud is the opposite of Chinatown and Meilan’s not quite sure who she is — being renamed at school only makes it worse. She decides she is many Meilans, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her name. Sometimes she is Mist, cool and invisible; other times, she’s Basket, carrying her parents’ hopes and dreams and her guilt about not living up to them; and sometimes she is bright Blue, the way she feels around her new friend Logan. Meilan keeps her facets separate until an injustice at school shows her the power of bringing her many selves together. The Many Meanings of Meilan, written in stunning prose by Andrea Wang, is an exploration of all the things it’s possible to grieve, the injustices large and small that make us rage, and the peace and joy that’s unlocked when you learn to find home within yourself.
About the Author
Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster and Magic Ramen. Her debut middle grade novel, The Many Meanings of Meilan, releases in 2021. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family. Website: www.andreaywang.com Twitter: @AndreaYWang Instagram: @AndreaWhyWang
Book Review by Graci Kim
I am eternally on the search for sticky books—stories that grip you from the very first chapter and refuse to let you go until you’ve devoured every last word. Sometimes, they continue to cling onto your heart and your mind, long after you’ve closed the last page.
The Many Meanings of Meilan is the ultimate sticky book. Immediately, I was sucked into Meilan’s world and I felt like I was experiencing her life, feeling her injustices, disappointments, and triumphs right there with her—as her. I was invested straight away, and the next time I looked up from the book, it was 2am in the morning and I had read the entire thing in one go!
The first thing I fell in love with was the beautiful prose. Simple, succinct, and deeply powerful, the imagery seeped straight into my bones. It felt like finding magic hiding in the most obvious of places, which is also what I loved about Meilan. Even when the injustices and difficulties of settling into a new home, school, and neighbourhood proved too much, she saw magic in the corners of her every day existence, calling upon its enchantments and drawing them into her life.
The second thing I fell in love with was the idea that good and bad (and ignorance) exists in all of us. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, sometimes good people can be ignorant, and it can all be deeply unfair. But Meilan takes us on her journey, showing us through her own realizations (and her mother’s proverbs!) that it’s how we let these incidents affect and shape us that truly measures one’s courage. The foundation of Chinese mythology, belief, and language added such wealth to the story; and as a student of Mandarin, I devoured these fully and wholeheartedly. The American experience is so rich for its diversity and complexity.
In summary, The Many Meanings of Meilan is a moving story about one girl’s search for self, and how she finds her voice and her place in her family and her community. It’s easy to compartmentalize our identities, and to run from the things that make us scared. But through Meilan, Andrea Wang teaches us that there is an alternative—one that is imperfect, but full of hope, growth, and ultimately, love. The Many Meanings of Meilan is a middle grade must-read for 2021.
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Graci Kim is a Korean-Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes magic-infused MG books for magic-infused readers. She grew up not seeing herself in her most treasured books, and has since committed herself to writing Korean-x (Korean diaspora) characters onto the page. The Last Fallen Star is her debut novel.
In a previous life, Graci was a diplomat for the NZ foreign service, a cooking show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies.
When she's not lost in her imagination, she's drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog (or ideally, many). She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter.