The Unbeatable Lily Hong

HarperCollins/Clarion. Jan. 2024. 304p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780358617235.
Gr 5-8–Against all odds, a fiery narrator saves the day in YA writer Ma’s debut middle grade novel. Aspiring filmmaker Lily always gets one-upped by her nemesis Max, the only other Chinese student in their small-town middle school outside of Seattle. The competitive heroine is determined to win the annual school district film competition; but her project suffers as she also tries to save the community center where her parents work and she grudgingly attends Chinese school. Lily’s distractions pull her away from her loyal friends and closer to Max, who may be helpful in rescuing the center. Lily is a wonderfully flawed and believable character, quick to anger and judge, and funny in her sarcasm. Not all the others are as well developed, such as Lily’s parents and other adults, but the book includes a nice array of people of diverse backgrounds. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek will also enjoy the many references and subculture portrayals, as well as those interested in Chinese mythology. There are abrupt scene changes and implausibly happy endings to complex problems, along with some bumpy wording along the way, but nothing to deter enjoying the tale.
VERDICT A feel-good story with a simmering romance that will likely lead readers to Ma’s YA novels.

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