Our November choice for Mother-Daughter Book Club was The Year of the Book, by Andrea Cheng. It’s about Anna, a 4th grader who is a first generation American. Her mother is learning English, studying for her driver’s license, and training to be a nurse, all while cleaning houses on the weekends, and her father runs a convenience store. Meanwhile, at school, Anna has lost her best friend to some mean girls, and takes refuge in books and her friendship with Ray, the crossing guard.
This isn’t an action-packed book (which the girls in the book club pointed out). But it’s a quiet and moving story about a girl trying to find her place and weather grade school when her family and customs aren’t like everyone else’s. Anna escapes into reading – she loves books like A Wrinkle in Time and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – and into sewing and crafts. She develops a relationship with one of her mom’s clients, a widower in a wheelchair who passes along his wife’s watercolors and sewing supplies to Anna. And she is devoted to her teacher, Mrs. Simmons – so much so that she lobbies her principal to have Mrs. Simmons teach her in fifth grade the following year.
There are some sad themes here – the demise of a marriage and its impact on a girl’s family, another girl’s learning disability, and, of course, the feeling of being left out by one’s peers. But the book ends hopefully. Ultimately, Anna must decide whether she should trust her best friend again or continue to retreat into her books for comfort.
Andrea Cheng’s writing was a little choppy, but the book was very easy to read. My girls really enjoyed it, as did I. It’s a gentle story that addresses some important and universal topics for middle-grade readers, and of course it celebrates reading, which is always a good thing.