Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Year of the Rat written and illustrated by Grace Lin

The Year of the Rat has arrived and the Lin family, Pacy, her mom and dad, older sister Lissy and young sister KiKi are celebrating with the Ling family - Mr. and Mrs. Ling, Pacy's best friend Melody, and her two brothers. The Lins and Lings are the only Taiwanese families in New Hartford, NY, where they live.

But when Pacy teases Lissy during dinner, she's told not to say anything rude or bad on the New Year, especially since the Year of the Rat symbolizes changes and new beginnings and you don't want those to be bad. But change is exactly what begins to happen. First, Pacy learns that Melody's dad is being transferred to California and Melody will be moving away. Her dad's company is sending a new family from China to work in NY and live in her house. Pacy and Melody promise to keep in touch, even sending each other books that they've read.

There are still more changes in store for Pacy when favorite older fun-but-still-not-an-adult cousin Clifford announces that he had met a girl when he was working in Taiwan and now they are engaged to be married in the summer.

After Melody leaves and the new Chinese boy shows up at school, Pacy ignores him and the two boys who are always making fun of him and his name - Dun Wei becomes Dumb Way. And even though Dun Wei doesn't speak much English yet, it's clear he understands that he is being made fun of. As far as Pacy is concerned, Dun Wei is the enemy for replacing Melody, and as Lissy explains, he's also 'fresh off the boat' Chinese, meaning someone who has just arrived in the US and who doesn't know how to be American yet.

Hanging out with old friends Becky and Charlotte brings other changes, as well. The remarks they make about Chinese people and how they always want to hook her up to Dun Wei when they talk about boyfriends because they are the only Chinese students in the school really begin to bother Pacy. Why don't they ever think to hook her up to Steve Mercer? After all, that's the boy Pacy is crushing on and they know it.

Then, Pacy, who had decided to be an author and illustrator of books as an adult, learns about the "cold door" she suddenly finds herself questioning her destiny. In Chinese culture, the cold door represents choosing a hard path in life for oneself, similar to the Western idea of the starving artist. Is this a choice she should rethink?

The first half of the Year of the Rat is full of what feels like unwelcome changes, but in the last half of the year, Pacy learns some important lessons about change and destiny that refocus her whole way of looking at things. Umm..., maybe change and new beginnings are so bad after all.

Here are some of the things I really liked about The Year of the Rat:

This is the third Pacy Lin novel I've read and I felt like I really knew the fictional Lin family at this point (see The Year of the Dog and Dumpling Days). So in many ways, it was a comfort read.

This year, without Melody by her side and seeing how unkind the other students are to Dun Wei, Pacy becomes much more aware of the kind of microaggressions she's always heard but ignored. But can Pacy find the strength to stand up to them and finally say something to the kids making those? Even before she can say something to others, however, Pacy will have to look at her prejudice regarding 'fresh-off-the-boat' Dun Wei being Chinese and not Taiwanese.

Like the previous Pacy Lin books, The Year of the Rat is full of Chinese culture, traditions, and legends and Grace Lin has woven them into the story seamlessly. Readers will discover why the rat is an admired animal on the Chinese zodiac; they will learn how easy it is to make a mistake when choosing your lunch and still learning English, and they will be introduced to traditional Chinese dishes that made my mouth water. Grace Lin has sprinkled fun black and white line illustrations throughout they book and at the end, she has includes photos of herself, her family, and best friend Alvina, the real life people Pacy's fictional life is based on.

I really enjoyed revisiting Pacy, her family and friends and I'm sure your young readers will enjoy reading about them, as well. And what better time to read The Year of the Rat than in the Year of the Rat.
(Happy New Year to You)

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. Timely post. I'll have to revisit this one-- I have Dumpling Days but not this one, for some reason.

  2. I love what this book explores and what it brings to the table. I can picture it helping to generate a lot of good, thoughtful conversations too.

  3. What a great read for the Chinese New Year -- full of culture, food and traditions. This series really gets to the heart of some big issues, with realistic characters. Great choice today!

  4. I've heard of this series but haven't had the chance to try it out. Love the cover and will put it high on my TBR list. Thanks for sharing on MMGM.

  5. I haven't read this series. My daughter is adopted from China so I think I'd like it. Thanks.

  6. I hadn't heard about these books, but you make them sound like they are worth my time. I will put them on my list. Thanks for your thoughts.


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