4.5 stars, actually.
One of the oldest stories told as success for Australia, USA, and Canada: Immigrants come to a mainstream white multicultural society, immigrants work hard, success follows.
But does working hard actually get you out of hourly, sweatshop work? Does success mean you have studied Edwardian art or that you can donate enough money to have buildings named after you?
With a slightly confusing conceit (the main girl seems to be talking to a past self) this book narrates the invasion of an elite, white girl college prep school by their inaugural diversity scholarship student: Linh Lam from working class neighborhood mostly of Asian (where Malta students are the high achievers) immigrants whose most education-minded parents send their kids to Catholic schools.
Linh/Lucy wins the scholarship and is offered entree to Laurinda where a trio of rich white girls (the Cabinet) reign supreme under the benignly ignorant eye of a strict Headmistress. These girls bully teachers and students alike and get away with everything because their parents donate money. Linh leads a double life for a while: helping her mom with sewing piecework and looking after her baby brother at home and trying desperately to live up to the Laurindian ideal at school.
It’s two different, foreign worlds that can never come together: because if they do, her whole life will come apart at the seams.
Mostly, however, the story is an internal monologue of getting by, how far Linh/Lucy will go to fit it, and a constant losing and regaining of herself in Laurinda’s halls. I felt where Linh/Lucy capitualted and was a guilty bystander was brutally honest, and her few places of rebellion (passive rebellion such as just not showing up at Saturday sports) and a few more aggressive rebellions were believable. I also like that there isn’t an easy HEA at the end…because that made it feel closer to true life.
Kudos for writing a book where white folks are called out for trying to “nurture” and “cultivate” those that are less fortunate, for showing dignity in hard work and conservative aspirations, and for portraying a characters who must code-switch and reinvent herself in difficult ways as you cheer her on.
Definitely engrossing to read just as a YA book about mean girls in a high school as well as great conversation fodder about class and racism.