Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood [in Shelf Awareness]
When 11-year-old Azalea Morgan and her mother arrive in Paris Junction, Arkansas, in August 1952, her mother barely lasts a few minutes in her gossipy, small-town childhood home before she turns the car around, leaving her daughter behind to help her injured grandmother with her housework and gardening. That Grandma Clark communicates best by banging her cane doesn’t make Azalea’s first encounter particularly welcoming.
Uncomfortable with meeting strangers, Azalea is surprised when Grandma Clark suggests she befriend Billy Wong, the Chinese American great-nephew of the local storeowner. “Back home, I don’t know any foreigners,” Azalea responds in shock. Her grandmother corrects her sternly. “Billy’s not a foreigner.” But Billy is new to Paris Junction, having moved from nearby Mississippi because, Grandma explains, “He wasn’t allowed to go to the better school, simply because he’s Chinese.”
Kind, thoughtful Billy – a wannabe journalist – turns out to be a wonderful companion. The same can’t be said of the other children Azalea meets, from “prisspot” Melinda to troublemaker Willis who targets Billy every chance he gets. Between gardening, adventurous bike rides, and even a midnight act of vandalism, the summer provides pivotal lessons on compassion, race, poverty, genuine friendship, and the unbreakable bonds of family.
Making Friends with Billy Wong, Augusta Scattergood’s (Glory Be) third novel, earnestly and effectively combines crucial civil rights history with absorbing storytelling. Every few chapters, Scattergood interrupts Azalea’s chatty, maturing observations – especially about Billy and her not-so-scary-after-all grandmother – with Billy’s perceptive free verse that reveals sharp, sometimes bittersweet insight into being a minority American.
Discover: Augusta Scattergood’s third middle-grade novel explores the little-known history of Chinese Americans in the Deep South during the 1950s.
Readers: Middle Grade