NWAW’s monthly must-reads

A girl learns book-smarts isn’t everything, a boy learns basketball isn’t everything, and a dragon and goldfish befriend a girl

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

“Millicent Min, Girl Genius”
By Lisa Yee
Scholastic, 2003

You’d think being a genius would make life easier. School would be a breeze. Your career choice could be based on your passion instead of merely what you’re good at. And all the answers to your problems would lie inside your own head.

However, as Millicent Min learns in “Girl Genius,” having a high IQ does not equal a perfect life.

At the tender age of 11, Millicent has just finished her junior year in high school and decides to take a class at a local college to keep busy over summer break.

Unfortunately for Millicent, her mother thinks she needs more of a normal childhood by socializing with people of her own age.

To her horror, her mother signs Millicent up for a volleyball team, and arranges for her to tutor Stanford Wong — poster boy for Chinese geekdom and Millicent’s very own nemesis.

Millicent is at the age of melodramatics, when even the smallest thing can trigger the end of her world. And it’s fun to see that, despite being mature for her age, she is not exempt from the issues that afflict adolescents.

As Millicent prepares for what seems like a horrible summer, she soon learns that volleyball and tutoring are not all that bad. Through volleyball, she meets Emily, a new girl who has just moved into town and is unaware of Millicent’s genius status. She also develops a friendship with Stanford, who turns out to be less horrendous than she expected.

What I love about this book is how Yee balances Millicent’s abundance of book smarts with her lack of street smarts.

Previously forced to socialize with people twice her age, this summer is the first time Millicent has a chance to interact with her own peers and experience being just a kid.

“Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time”
By Lisa Yee
Scholastic, 2005

There are always two sides to a story.

“Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time” is Stanford’s version of what happens during the summer when he flunks English and needs to be tutored by Millicent Min in order to avoid repeating the sixth grade.

To make matters worse, his father won’t let him go to basketball camp. In addition to tutoring sessions with Millicent, Stanford must attend summer school to raise his grades.

To Stanford, Millicent is a “freaky geek-a-zoid, totally useless, like a basketball without air” — the furthest thing from a friend.

Millicent shares his antagonistic feelings, but as they’re forced to spend time together, Stanford, who thinks basketball is the only thing that matters, learns that school doesn’t have to be terrible if you don’t want it to be. Like Millicent, Stanford learns the importance of balance.

Millicent begins the summer with book smarts, but has little street smarts, and the opposite can be said for Stanford. While he is intelligent, Stanford doesn’t apply himself because, if it isn’t related to basketball, he doesn’t care.

When he meets Millicent’s friend Emily, he doesn’t want her to know that he’s being tutored. In fact, he pretends that he’s the one tutoring Millicent. Stanford and Millicent become friends, brought together by Emily — who they both want to spend time with — and the secret they keep from her.

I love this book because it reminds me of that time in life when you begin to look at the opposite gender differently and develop your first real crush, which is what happens to Stanford. It is fun to read about how his mind works when it comes to the new girl in town, and Yee does a good job of portraying how sweetly flustered he becomes when he tries to get closer to Emily — something we can all relate to.

“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”
By Grace Lin
Little, Brown and Company, 2009

Minli knows that life is not always fair. Living in a village near Fruitless Mountain, she and her parents work hard in the fields with very little to show for it.

To escape the reality of living in a house so small, Minli’s father tells her ancient tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon.

Minli’s mother scolds at his storytelling because she thinks it is nonsense. However, Minli believes the stories are true and one day, she leaves home to try and change her family’s fortune.

On her journey, Minli meets different characters including a talking goldfish, a dragon born from a drawing, and a boy who lives only with his buffalo.

Everyone she meets has a story to tell her as she makes her way toward Never-Ending Mountain to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask how she can change her family’s fortune.

But with each new character she meets and the stories she hears, Minli learns that there are different kinds of fortunes that are more important than money.

All the stories Minli hears are based on traditional Chinese folktales. Lin weaves them into the tale of Minli’s journey seamlessly, and each of the new stories builds upon the previous one.

Although the stories are simple, they are enchanting enough to capture the readers’ imaginations, and each has an important moral lesson.

“Mountain” is filled with unforgettable characters that will leave you laughing, crying, and everything in between. ♦

Do you know of a book Samantha Pak should read? Send suggestions to info@nwasianweekly.com.

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

One Response to “NWAW’s monthly must-reads”

  1. phil says:

    A genius is someone who actually does something that some part of society at least would reach some consensus to call in effect an “act of genius”, invariably the creation of something new and useful the world has never seen before, but not just anything like a fancier can opener. Otherwise, this word is just tossed around indiscriminately as a term for those who show exceptional amounts of intelligence but still haven’t committed any acts of genius.

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