I received an e-book Advance Reader’s Copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. New From Here will be on sale March 1, 2022.
When I read Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, I found it to be a remarkable middle grade reader. Fun and thoughtful, easy to follow while still probing deep questions and ideas. Yang exhibits all that same skill in her latest book while tackling big issues like the Covid-19 crisis and anti-Asian racism. I initially read Front Desk when I bought it as a birthday gift for my 11-year-old niece. (I always buy my nieces and nephews books and try to read them in advance.) I then recommended it to my husband who teaches kids that age and he was also impressed with the way Yang wrote and has since used the book in his classroom. So when I saw her latest book available on NetGalley, I requested it. Although my own kids are a few years from reading books like this, I think this is a book that both works well now for kids who are and have been living through these Covid-19 years, and for kids a few years from now who want to know more about what it was like.
Our narrator is Knox, a pre-teen kid living in Hong Kong with his parents, his older brother and his little sister. It is early 2020 and coronavirus is a word just starting to be used. Remembering the SARs crisis of a few years earlier, Knox’s parents decide they need to take their kids out of Hong Kong and return to their home in California. However, Knox’s dad can’t leave his job and so the three kids return to America with only their mom. Knox’s dad is a Caucasian American while Knox’s mom is a Chinese-born, American immigrant. His parents met while students at Berkeley and Knox, Bowen, and Lea live their lives between California and Hong Kong.
Knox doesn’t want to leave Hong Kong and especially his dad but once they arrive in California, he finds things to appreciate. He makes a friend at his new school and for once has a teacher who seems to understand him and who he actually learns from. Knox has trouble controlling himself and thinking things through. Adult readers may recognize the symptoms of ADHD but younger readers get to follow along as Knox learns of his diagnosis and deals with how to define himself.
At the same time, Knox is dealing with sibling rivalry, missing his dad, and being one of only 2 Chinese students in his class as fear around the coronavirus ramps up. He comes up with a few charming and hare-brained schemes to bring his dad over from Hong Kong and learns to appreciate his family in a new way.
Yang does a great job of capturing the fear and uncertainty of those early weeks in 2020 when there was still so much that was unknown. She really shows a variety of ways that people react in fear and, I think, what it might be like to be a kid navigating a new world beyond your control.
One interesting choice she makes is that because Knox and his siblings are mixed-race, his older brother looks more Chinese than Knox and their little sister do. Bowen is the object of more overt racism than his siblings, something that the rest of the family is not initially aware of. I think this could be a great jumping off point for discussion with young kids about why people react to others the way they do and what is really behind racism.
Kelly Yang is definitely a writer to look for when looking for books for middle grade readers and New From Here is a great addition to any kid’s library in 2022.