It looks like I never wrote a review of it, but I remember really enjoying Millicent Min, Girl Genius back when it was new, a good many years ago. And then Grace Lin was talking on her podcast about how much she likes her. I realized I hadn’t read any of her books since then (sorry, Lisa!) – but lucky me, she had a brand new book sitting on the shelf!
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee Random House, 2022 ISBN 9781984830258 Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
Maizy has grown up with her single-by-choice mother in Los Angeles, where her grandparents (Oma and Opa) have never visited them. But now, suddenly, she and her mom are spending the summer in Last Chance, Minnesota, where her grandparents run a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Palace. Maizy is less than thrilled to be leaving her best friend for the summer. Seeing the simmering tensions between her mother and grandparents doesn’t help, and neither does the open prejudice she experiences from several of the few other kids her age in town – she’s never been the only Asian American before. But she still develops a special bond with her grandfather, who teaches her to play poker and tells her stories of how his great-great grandfather, Lucky, emigrated from China and ended his long journeys in Last Chance.
The tiny town is filled with interesting characters whom Maizy gets to know – Daisy, the Golden Palace’s assistant, terrible at cooking and serving but passionate about the environment. Lady Beth (or Macbeth), the richest person in town, who’s always sitting in the middle of the restaurant ordering more food than she can eat. Logan, the only kid her age who’ll talk to her. Principal Holmes, who wears a different funny t-shirt about reading every day and who went to prom with her mother. Mayor Whitlock, also the town’s public relations specialist. Werner, who runs the German sausage restaurant in town and was once her Opa’s best friend. And of course Bud, the giant wooden bear who stands guard outside the Golden Palace.
As Maizy gets more comfortable with Last Chance, she starts typing custom fortunes for the fortune cookies at the restaurant, sometimes just more fun than the commercially printed ones, sometimes targeted directly at the people who are getting them, such as “You can do better” for a teen girl on a date with an overbearing boy. All the time, she can see her grandfather fading. And then Bud the bear goes missing, with a racist ransom note left behind, and it’s up to Maizy and Logan to track him down.
This has a lot of different strands woven together, from the classic city kid in a small town to the large and small effects of racism, a look at healing frayed relationships, and the strength of learning one’s past. I found myself thinking about Maizy even when I wasn’t reading it, and closed the book with a sigh of satisfaction. I might have to go catch up on some of Lisa’s backlist now.