Book Review: The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou

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Book Review: The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou - Don't Mess with Mama

The Girl Mechanic Of Wanzhou, a middle-grade novel by Marjorie Sayer, is set in the fictitious city of Wanzhou, China, during the turn of the 20th century. It is a story of a 12-year-old girl, named Zun, on the run from the Magistrate who is trying to retrieve back-taxes in the form of her father’s bicycle after the death of her father and amputation of her mother’s arm.

Zun accompanied her father at work, who was a mechanic on the verge of revolutionizing the way bicycles were built. In a time when a Chinese girl’s education was only reserved for the wealthy, Zun gained knowledge through experience — mechanical skills from her father and reading and writing from her mother who scripted for a living.The story takes a turn when Zun realizes that the intent of the Magistrate was more than just collecting taxes. The bicycle and its creation becomes a key role in why Zun wants to avenge her father’s death and rescue her mother. Her journey leads to old family friends who help her with her mission.The moment I started reading, I felt as if I stepped back in time to the dusty and busy streets of a small city in China. The descriptions of the city — the food, smells, buildings, and people were truly vivid and set the stage. I couldn’t help but imagine myself there, running alongside Zun as she’s shivering from the cold, disguising herself as a boy, or sneaking around in Magistrate’s compound.

I was really touched when Zun received sympathy from a soldier, who put a piece of bread in her pocket after she was without substantial food on her journey. It reminded me of a similar story of my grandmother who received the same sympathy as she was hiding from Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during World War II. I could feel the hope in humanity that was restored in Zun, especially at a time when she felt that the odds were against her.

The introduction of Pig-Pig, a pig who trained in Martial Arts, was a delight since my daughter has a recent interest in owning a mini pot-belly pig as a pet. My mother had a house pig in the Philippines and always told us how smart and clean they were. So where some readers would think, “A pig couldn’t do that,” I had more faith. It almost made me say, “yes” to my daughter’s pig… almost.

The book was a wonderful adventure. I thought I would only read a chapter at a time while I waited in the car to pick up my daughter from school. After three chapters, I had to finish the book — it lured me in, making me wonder, “what happens next?” It was refreshing to have a head-strong, young, female character as the heroine. Where it was expected that Zun would succumb to her physical weakness, she showed strength through her savvy and wit. It’s a great message to give to our young girls.

The Girl Mechanic Of Wanzhou uses Chinese terminology that may be unfamiliar to some readers. But as you assess the plot and relationships in the story, it becomes easier to understand and almost second-nature. There are many lessons to learn in the book about mortality, having a strong support system in friends and family (even when you don’t know it), and putting your knowledge and talents to use.

Marjorie Sayer won first runner-up in Scholastic Asian Book Award with The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou. I was also impressed to find out that her background is in math and physics, winning prizes and fellowships in mathematics. She has written technical books and math workbooks for children. This is her first novel and it is a great read. While my 8-year-old would be a bit young for The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou, especially since it deals with death and constant fear, I think it would be good for kids in middle-school. Heck, I enjoyed it. I’m sure you would, too.

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  1. Great review and it was interesting how you could tie some of the experience to your own family’s experience (your grandmother). Looks like a book to read!

  2. I really enjoyed this book, too. What a remarkable story!

    • Glad to hear you got a chance to read it too. Love YA stories that teach kids about Chinese culture and give a perspective on life in China.

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