Have you ever heard someone describe a book as a window or a mirror for a child? Emily Style coined this phrase, and Grace Lin has an excellent TED Talk on the topic. The Many Meanings of Meilan felt like both a window and a mirror for me, and I loved this book so, so much.

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The summary, from Amazon:

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 across the 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 occasionally 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.

Buy The Many Meanings of Meilan here.

Meilan and her family move from Chinatown in Boston to a rural town in Ohio after selling her grandmother’s bakery. Meilan feels that everything that happened was the result of a family argument. Not only that, but she feels like she started that fight. In her new town of Redbud, Meilan deals with injustice and racism towards her. She also struggles to define who she really is, vacillating between the many meanings of her name between school and home.

Wow, what a great book. I related to Meilan feeling like a family fight was all her fault and wanting to reunite her family, even when being apart may have been better for them. I experienced something similar around her age, so this part of the book was a total mirror for me. I really related and saw my situation. On the other hand, The Many Meanings of Meilan will provide a mirror for some readers and a window for others, like myself. Meilan really had a community in Chinatown, and in Redbud is the target of bullying from adults and children alike because she is Chinese. With the support of friends and family, Meilan really finds meaning within herself. This book explored grief, injustice, and finding home in such an impactful way and was a clear 5 star read for me.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

The Many Meanings of MeilanThe Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book, my favorite realistic middle grade fiction of 2021 so far! I loved that this book felt like both a window and a mirror for me.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Why does Meilan feel the family’s fight was her fault? Was it really?
  2. Are Meilan, her parents, and her grandfather better off in some ways in Redbud? What might their life be missing that they left behind in Boston?
  3. Describe Meilan’s relationship with each of the twins and the twins relationship with each other.
  4. How do the adults in Meilan’s life contribute to the injustice she faces? How do they offer support?


Interested? Buy The Many Meanings of Meilan.
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peacefully reading