Making Friends with Billy Wong

224p. Scholastic. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545924252.
Gr 4–6—Azalea, 11, is summoned from Texas by her grandmother in Arkansas to help her while she recuperates from an injury. Shy Azalea is less than thrilled to spend the last month before school starts away from her best friend, waiting on the crotchety relative she hardly knows and missing the family vacation. Grandma Clark has Azalea work in the garden but forbids her to go into the mysterious garden shed. She also sends Azalea to the only grocery store in town, which the Wong family has run for generations. The Wongs' great-nephew, Billy, has recently moved in with them so he can attend the local school, as the one in his hometown is segregated. This being the early 1950s, Billy would be forced to attend the less well-equipped school for nonwhites in his hometown. Billy is undaunted at being the only Chinese student at the school and wants to experience all it offers. He describes his thoughts and feelings in scattered chapters of free verse. Slowly, Billy and Azalea become friends. Not everyone in town, especially bad boy Willis, who has secrets, is happy about the new student. The characters are finely drawn, and the period elements are smoothly incorporated into the narrative. The author's extensive research on the time and place comes through in the details.
VERDICT This is a quiet story about family, friendship, and combatting the problems of racism and bullying. A fine addition to most collections, especially where historical fiction set in the mid-20th century is in demand.

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