Book Review: Morning Sun in Wuhan by Ying Chang Compestine
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. Readers can follow Mei’s tantalizing recipes and cook them at home.
My brother was here the other day and while in my office picked up this book. “They’re already writing books about the pandemic?!” he asked. He was surprised to hear there are already a handful that take place during the pandemic. The thing that sets this one apart is that it’s set in Wuhan in the very first days of Covid. The distracting thing with all of these pandemic books, for me, is that we are STILL IN THE PANDEMIC but the focus of all these books has been the beginning of the pandemic and all the changes—distance learning, lockdowns, masks, extreme caution, etc—and yet here we are, still very much in the pandemic, still very much at risk, and very little (in general) is being done anymore to protect us. And that’s not a commentary on the books at all, that’s a commentary on the world. It’s jarring to read these stories that show just how seriously things were taken at first and look around to see that we’ve (as a whole) mostly decided we don’t care to do any of those things anymore. I read this sitting masked in my library, but far how we’ve come from the care and caution of the beginning times.
Mei, our main character, spends the bulk of the book home alone during the days in January 2020 when Wuhan began to shut down. Her father is head of respiratory care at a local hospital. Her mother died a year ago. Things move quickly in Wuhan, from people first starting to be coughing and suddenly very ill to everything being on lockdown. Mei, who loves to cook and plays a cooking game online with friends, is able to care for herself okay while mostly alone—her father has always been gone a lot with his demanding job—but it’s a terrifying time. Food becomes scarce, places shut down, the city goes on lockdown, and neighbors must band together to help each other out. Mei desperately wants to be useful and arranges to work with her aunt to help provide meals to frontline workers and, eventually, to the larger community. She works with her neighbors to help get groceries to those trapped inside. She watches ambulances take away neighbors, buildings get boarded up, people grieving the sudden loss of someone.
Somehow, despite the very serious moment in which Mei finds herself, the author manages to convey that the main feelings of this book are hope, resilience, and community. Mei is just a child, but she stays calm in the face of an overwhelmingly scary change, she focuses on what she can do and who she can help, and, despite her father largely being absent, is looked out for and cared for by those around her. For readers who may feel too close to the pandemic still, who may not yet be ready to read about kids tackling distance learning or the boredom of not being able to see others, this look at life in Wuhan as the pandemic starts may appeal to them. I loved following Mei through the vibrant and bustling Wuhan, and even when it became a quiet place in lockdown, I still liked being able to see what that new life looked like for her. This well-written, compassionate story of the early days of Covid was an insightful peek into a place many have now heard about but may not really know anything about. I look forward to more from this author.
Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/08/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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