Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Review: Millicent Min: Girl Genius

by Lisa Yee. Scholastic Inc., 2003. Millicent is an 11 year old genius spending the summer before her senior year of high school taking a college poetry class and trying to make her first real friend. Her mother has forced to join a volleyball team and tutor her arch enemy basketball jock Stanford Wong.

There is something very sweet and touching about Millicent's naive brainiac point of view. At first I found her annoying in that show-off preachy way really smart kids have. After awhile I got used to her and started liking her. She prepares what she thinks is a hilarious inscription in Latin for the high school yearbook, but nobody asks for her autograph. The older kids accuse her of ruining the grading curve and Stanford, a boy her age whose mother is friends with her mother, scorns her for making the teachers think all Asians are brilliant. But when her mother starts acting funny in a sick and vulnerable way, clueless Millicent assumes she is dying of cancer instead of pregnant.

Millie really hates being forced to play volleyball. Her mother thinks it will give her a chance to make friends, and of course she is right. Millicent meets Emily, a girl who is happy to be her friend. Millicent thinks Emily won't discover how smart she is if Millicent hides her awards and doesn't tell the truth about what grade she is in at school. It never occurs to her that Emily might know she has a high IQ and just not care.

Emily turns out to be a really good friend. When Millicent and Stanford lie to her about their tutoring arrangement she finds out and gets really angry. Millicent has to figure out that Emily cares for more than an IQ score. She's based her friendship on a genuine liking of the total Millicent; a new thought for Millicent.

Although Millicent and Stanford are Asian and there are lots of family cultural Asian things in the story the book is not "about" being Asian. It's about kids who happen to be Asian as well as a lot of other things. Encounters with racism are woven into the story line in a way that enlightens us without weighing it down. For example, Stanford and Millicent, while usually bitterly resenting being thrown together, find a moment of shared relating when swapping stories of being told how Chinese kids should be or act. She says,
"Just today, when I ordered huevos rancheros (yum) at the Rogers College cafeteria, the cashier looked at me and said, "I didn't think you people liked that kind of food."
Nothing like being lumped in with a billion other people.
So I said to her, "Well, we can't eat rice all the time." She thought a moment and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right."

Stanford gets told my his grandmother that he ought to be more like that "nice, smart Chinese girl". "Can you imagine the humiliation of that?" he asks her, and yes, she can commiserate.

This is a great coming of age story for middle grade kids. Any student who is gifted and has struggled to find friends and fit in with the "normal" crowd will really appreciate seeing how Millicent navigates those waters. Yee has written two sequels from the points of view of the other major characters; Stanford and Emily.


Sample chapter at LisaYee.com

Book talk on Teacher Tube

Discussion guide at a library site

wikipedia entry


Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time

So Totally Emily Ebers

Other Blog Reviews (props to Sara's Hold Shelf for compiling this list of links of blog reviews)

Lisa Yee's LiveJournal where she talks about being Asian American and Fusion Stories this month.

Other interviews with Lisa listed at her website.

1 comment:

Tarie said...

I bought this book a couple of weeks ago. You are getting me pumped up to read it. :o)