Millicent Min series: Ages 9 and up
Lisa Yee's first novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, is an absolute riot. At the tender age of eleven, Millicent completed eleventh grade. Over the summer, she plans to take college courses and (unhappily) tutor Stanford, a boy who drives her up a wall. Her mother, thinking she needs more of a social life with kids her own age, enrolls her in a summer volleyball team. There, she meets a girl who recently moved to town and does not know of Millicent's collegiate status. What's a smart girl to do?
This hilarious book reminds readers of all ages that it is okay to be smart. Millicent may feel much older than she is, mentally, but chronologically, she is still a kid. By the end of the summer, she is a little more comfortable in her own skin and proud of who she is and what she's accomplished.
Pop culture tidbit: The audio book version of Millicent Min is read by Keiko Agena, best known for her role as Lane on the Gilmore Girls television series.
When I originally read and reviewed Millicent Min upon the book's release in 2003, I said, "I hope that Yee writes more tales, if not of Millicent, then of others. She has a real knack." Happily, Yee DID write more tales, two of which are connected to Millie: Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time and So Totally Emily Ebers.
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time parallels the events of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, retelling things from Stanford's point of view. He would much rather play basketball than study, so he's super upset when he has to go to summer school instead of basketball camp. He also doesn't want to be tutored by Millicent, but he relishes the opportunity to make her look silly when she pretends that SHE is the one being tutored.
I've known many real-life Stanfords, kids who have struggled with school and excelled in sports. I want to give this book to all of them, even if they are grown up now. Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time will hopefully encourage readers to see the value in both education and athletics.
Millie's volleyball teammate tells her own story in So Totally Emily Ebers. After her parents get divorced, Emily has to move across the country with her mom. The bulk of the book is a letter to her father, filling him in on everything that goes on that summer. She tells him all about volleyball, her new friend Millie, and her crush Stanford. She misses her dad like crazy, but she finally clicks with her mom and enjoys making a new start in their new town.
Emily is a truly nice kid. Rather than act out in an angsty, cliched way after the divorce and the move, she remains perpetually optimistic and eternally kind. Emily is charming and sweet, and her story wraps up the trilogy with the smile.
Coming in March 2011: Warp Speed, a spin-off from the Millicent Min series!
American Girls: Ages 7 and up
Lisa Yee has also written for American Girls. Their line of Julie Albright books written by Megan McDonald introduced Ivy, Julie's best friend. Ivy then got a book all her own called Good Luck, Ivy - and Yee got to write it.
Between regular grammar school Monday through Friday, Chinese school on Saturdays, homework, and gymnastics practice, Ivy's plenty busy. She's looking forward to an upcoming gymnastics meet, but she's worried about her routine on the balance beam, having fallen off of the apparatus in an earlier competition. When she learns a family reunion is scheduled for the same time as the meet, Ivy has to decide which event to attend . . . or figure out a way to go to both!
The book takes place in 1976, so Ivy references the 1972 Olympics and Olga Korbout's balance beam routine, which won her the gold medal. Even though the book takes place over twenty years ago, the theme of appreciating your family's culture is timeless. Readers will hopefully be moved to consider the struggles and traditions of their own families.
The vignettes at the end of the book details real-life events in the lives of Chinese immigrants. This section also includes photographs of Lisa Yee and her relatives. How cool is that?
What to learn more about Ivy's best friend Julie? Read my reviews of the Julie series.
The Bobby Ellis-Chan series: Ages 7 and up
Bobby's surrounded by girls: his best friend, Holly; his little sister, Casey; his big sister, Annie; and other girls in his class, of course. He looks up to his parents - his father, a former football player who still gets recognized by people wherever he goes, is now a stay-at-home dad, and his mom is both a great listener and a hard worker - and has a ton of fun with his friends. But what Bobby wants more than anything is a dog, even though he's allergic. He ends up with a fish instead, and, in the first book, he somehow finds himself running for a class office against his best friend. When the leader results are revealed, what will happen to their friendship? In the second book, Bobby has to figure out how to deal with being compared to his famous father. He'd much rather draw than run towards the goalposts, and he'd much rather leave the athletic endeavors to his older sis, Annie, who is the quarterback of her high school football team. As she did with her interconnected middle grade books about Millicent and company, Lisa Yee teaches Bobby's readers about responsibility, honesty, and loyalty in a subtle and realistic way.
Read the books in order:
Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally)
Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)
Read my full-length reviews of the books.
Teen Fiction: Ages 13 and up
Absolutely Maybe introduces us to a girl named Maybe - short for Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut - who was named after "two Miss Americas and her mother Chessy's favorite brand of mascara." After her mom's boyfriend does something inexcusable, Maybe heads to California to find her biological dad, who doesn't even know she exists.
We featured this book in the May 2010 issue of readergirlz.
To learn more about Lisa Yee, read my interview with the author or visit her website or her LiveJournal.