The Legend of Auntie Po

Kokila. Jun. 2021. 304p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780525554882; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780525554899.
Gr 5-8–In Sierra Nevada in 1885, three years after the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, 13-year-old pie maker Mei helps her father run the logging camp’s kitchen. Mei, who is Chinese, also spends time with her best friend Beatrice (Bee) Andersen, who is white, and masterfully spins tall tales about a female Chinese folk hero named Po Pan Yin, aka Auntie Po, and her blue buffalo Pei Pei. As Mei grapples with her growing feelings for Bee, she suddenly starts to see Auntie Po and Pei Pei in real life. Rising racial tension in the area reaches a boiling point when Chinese cook Ah Sam and another Chinese worker are attacked on their way back to the logging camp. Changes are coming to Mei’s life, and even the mother of all loggers, Auntie Po, can only do so much to help. The author interweaves fabulism and historical fiction into a well-designed, evenly paced, stirring narrative. There is a strong sense of place, thanks to stunning watercolors and Mei’s informative narration of how a logging camp is run. The Auntie Po stories add a layer of humor or poignancy and act as an emotional channel for Mei’s internal struggles. Mei’s gradual queer awakening is treated sensitively as an important part of her story line. Mei; her father, Hao; Ah Sam; and some background logging camp characters are of Chinese heritage; the majority of the rest of lumberjacks are white; and there is a Black family living at the camp as well.
VERDICT A moving read that skillfully explores themes of racism, privilege, and identity. A must for all libraries.

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