What was the pandemic of the century like at the start? This swift, gripping novel captures not only the uncertainty and panic when COVID first emerged in Wuhan, but also how a community banded together.
Weaving in the tastes and sounds of the historic city, Wuhan’s comforting and distinctive cuisine comes to life as the reader follows 13-year-old Mei who, through her love for cooking, makes a difference in her community. Written by an award-winning author originally from Wuhan.
Grieving the death of her mother and an outcast at school, thirteen-year-old Mei finds solace in cooking and computer games. When her friend’s grandmother falls ill, Mei seeks out her father, a doctor, for help, and discovers the hospital is overcrowded. As the virus spreads, Mei finds herself alone in a locked-down city trying to find a way to help.
Author Ying Chang Compestine draws on her own experiences growing up in Wuhan to illustrate that the darkest times can bring out the best in people, friendship can give one courage in frightening times, and most importantly, young people can make an impact on the world.
I’m going to start my review off with a content warning, if you are at all triggered by talk of the currently ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you may find parts of this book hard to read. This book talks about the beginning days of the pandemic where it began in Wuhan and there are definitely some portions that are raw.
That being said, books like this are important because they highlight the humanity of a crisis like this. Not politics but sides of humanity, both good and bad. It shows that fear is a powerful motivator in both good and bad ways causing people to either band together and take care of each other, or to turn to the side of fear that result in anger (such as hoarding food or treating others badly).
I really enjoyed Mei as the main character, someone who has hard hardships in her life and is still processing through grief at a very formative age. There are understandable moments of panic and anxiety on her part, but she processes everything and makes decisions in a real way. She’s truly the heart of the story and a great example about how one person can make very positive actions in hard situations, even if they are young.