#AsianLitBingo Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

I thought I would be reading a light-hearted YA teenaged about school friendships. But it was so much more than that. And I am so glad.

Lucy Lam is from the Australian suburb of Stanley, a place “where many people work in banking and advertising – that is, their mums clean banks and their brothers put Safeway ads into mailboxes. It’s a place where people have four cars in their driveways – but only one that is working.”

Somehow she wins a scholarship to an elite private girls’ school. In fact, she is the “inaugural Equal Access student” and the headmistress constantly makes sure she doesn’t forget that.

Her family is from Vietnam and they are Teochew Chinese. They fled Vietnam for Australia when Lucy was just a few years old.

Her father works in a carpet factory and her mother makes a little bit of extra cash by taking on garment sewing in their garage. She also has a baby brother, who spends most of his time in the garage with their mum.

I was kind of excited to see the mention of a Teochew background as it’s something I’ve not come across in fiction before. Part of my family is Teochew, as in our ancestors originated from this region in Guangdong, China (I’m also part Hokkien and Hainanese).

(Back to the story!)

Lucy, writing about her experience in letters to her friend Linh, is at first enthralled with the glamorous school and wealthy classmates. But she soon discovers that the school is pretty much run by a clique of ultra-rich girls known as the Cabinet, even some of the teachers are at their mercy.

I loved how this book handles elitism and privilege, racial prejudice and the experience of Asian immigrants in Australia. It was thought-provoking and also rather amusing especially when a parent of Lucy’s classmate invites her home to demonstrate how to make rice-paper rolls.

“I could just see her at the market, Linh, marveling at the beauty of it all, extolling the parsimony of ethnic women and their ability to select ripe avocados and mangoes, bitter gourds and rambutans.”

Lucy and Linh was a sharp, funny and just fantastic read. We don’t get many Australian books here in the libraries of suburban America, which is such a pity, so this was an extra pleasure to read.

I read for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Refugee MC.

Find out more details about the challenge here.

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