The Many Meanings of Meilan

by Andrea Wang (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

A family feud before the start of seventh grade propels Meilan from Boston's Chinatown to rural Ohio, where she must tap into her inner strength and sense of justice to make a new place for herself in this resonant debut. Meilan Hua's world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family's beloved matriarch, Nai Nai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston's Chinatown; and her favorite Chinese fairy tales.

After Nai Nai 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, cooling and invisible; other times, she's Basket, carrying her parents' hopes and dreams and her guilt of 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 that's unlocked when we learn to find home within ourselves.

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School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 4-7-Wang's middle grade debut is a vibrant exploration of family and identity. Meilan Hua's family runs a bakery in Boston's Chinatown, but when the family fractures, Meilan, her parents, and her grandfather move to small-town Ohio in search of a fresh start. At her new school, the principal decides it's best for Meilan to go by a different name which he choses-Melanie-as to better accommodate the other (white) students. As Meilan navigates tenuous relationships, she explores many facets of her identity, each modeled on a Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her own name. Meilan is a deftly crafted, dynamic character; readers will empathize with, love, and root for her the whole way through. Meilan's named classmates are fully realized, though in comparison Meilan's teachers are starkly two-dimensional, with the principal reaching almost comic-book villain status. The nearly all-white town of Redbud provides myriad opportunities for readers to witness explicit and implicit bias and racism, and Wang demonstrates multiple ways to navigate similar situations. Additionally, Meilan learns about the Vietnam War through talking with her grandfather, who lives with PSTD. Wang balances a heavy load, but does it exceptionally well. Not every thread is neatly tied in the end, ultimately adding to the story's realism. VERDICT Meilan's story should be on library shelves everywhere. Recommended as a general purchase.-Taylor Worley, Springfield P.L., OR

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publisher's Weekly

A few months before the novel begins, the death of beloved Huā family matriarch Nǎinai sends the fate of Taiwanese American family bakery Golden Phoenix into a tailspin in this carefully woven middle grade debut by Wang (Watercress). After Huā Měilán, 12, tells her cousin a bedtime story that instigates a family feud over finances, her father and his siblings sell the Boston Chinatown-based bakery. Měilán, her parents, and her widowed grandfather subsequently embark on an East Coast road trip ending in rural Rosebud, Ohio. Mourning the fracturing of her family, Lan-rechristened Melanie by her new middle school principal-swears off storytelling as she struggles to acclimate into an unfamiliar all-white environment and navigate her identity within her family and the world. Denoted in Pinyin, Mandarin dialogue and Chinese proverbs pepper the narrative, along with folkloric elements and allusions; Měilán’s compartmentalization is cleverly rendered in different readings of her name. The book can feel slightly overstuffed at times, but Lan’s encounters with microaggressions and racism are all too real in this gently fantastical tale. Back matter includes an author’s note on transliteration, a glossary of Mama’s proverbs, and additional resources. Ages 9-12.

Copyright 2021 Publisher’s Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Andrea Wang
Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of Watercress, illustrated by Jason Chin, which Kirkus called "Understated, deep, and heart rending" in a starred review. She is also the author of The Nian Monster and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando as well as the forthcoming middle-grade novel, The Many Meanings of Meilan. 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.

Hyewon Yum is the author and illustrator of many acclaimed books for children, including Not Little, written by Maya Myers (Neal Porter Books, 2021). Other books include This Is Our House, The Twins' Blanket, There Are No Scary Wolves, and Last Night. Her book Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! received the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
August 20, 2021

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