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.
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.