I had this one on my stacks of books to review last year, but it never made it to the top until 2023 rolled around. The wait was well worth it.
Holly-Mei lives with her younger sister and their parents in Toronto. Mom is Taiwanese and dad is white and originally from England. The story begins when the girls learn from their mother that she has a new job and they will be moving to Hong Kong for two years. After some initial worries Holly-Mei is excited about the move. Her new school is on the beach and an always best friend at her present school is on the outs after Holly-Mei’s honesty about a classmate was not well received. It seems like the perfect timing, except Ah-ma (Taiwanese for grandmother) is staying behind.
After the family’s arrival in Hong Kong, it doesn’t take long for Holly Mei to realize living in this new city brings many challenges with new rules and expectations. The most popular girl at her private school is giving her fits and Holly-Mei is beginning to miss Canada more and more. But adventure awaits in this ocean-side city and Holly-Mei is determined to make it work.
The setting is eyeopening and wonderful, especially for those like me who have never been to China. Readers will learn about the many features Kong Kong has to offer and the wide range of food choices. But the real tale are tweens dealing with friendships, possible first crushes, and cultural understanding. Holly-Mei’s first person narration brings it forth in a splendid way. Several nice illustrations also appear throughout.
A well paced plot and I’m glad this is the first in a series of Holly-Mei books. Book two will be out on April 4, 2023: THE NOT-SO-PERFECT PLAN.
Page Count: 288
FIVE (“ng” in Cantonese) MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI
- You get a look how the ultra rich live with a few of the classmates and their families. Very eye opening.
- A positive story about the Asian culture and how a bi-racial girl finds s few friends like her.
- Doing the wrong thing is something middle school kids will relate to. Holly-Mei does her best and eventually learns to deal with the choices she makes.
- Many more great characters from Millie, her one grade younger sister and of course all the new friends Holly Mei meets. It will be fun to see their character arcs grow deeper as new books in the series are released.
- The back pages bring many welcome surprises. Beginning with the author’s note about how the story parallels her own to a glossary of Chinese words used in the book. I also can’t wait to try the two recipes: Ah-ma’s Dumplings and Millie’s Red Bean Creamsicles.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina Matula is from Ottawa, Canada and is of Taiwanese-Hungarian heritage. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places.
Moving to Hong Kong gave Christina the chance to explore her Chinese cultural roots (amazing food, fascinating festivals) and learn some Mandarin (constant uphill climb). She loves eating dumplings, playing field hockey, and hiking.
She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong. She is also a former Board Member of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, which advocates reading aloud with children and provides quality books to local underserved communities.
She now lives in Helsinki, Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.
Christina is represented by Carrie Pestritto of Laura Dail Literary Agency.
For more about Christina be sure to visit her author website.
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