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Excerpt from King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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King of the Armadillos

by Wendy Chin-Tanner

King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner X
King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2023, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 17, 2024, 336 pages

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The bathroom door swung open, slamming against the wall. A sewer smell crept up the aisle. Victor wrinkled his nose and watched the nurse get up to shut it, holding on to the seats to steady herself as the train hit a curve. A part of him still couldn't believe he was going to Louisiana to live in a federal institution. He didn't want to leave New York, just like he hadn't wanted to leave China, but after the argument in the hospital a few days ago, it became clear that he didn't have much of a choice.

In his room at Bellevue, Victor had watched Ba sift through the papers and pamphlets in the file the doctor had given them.

"If we take him to the place on Staten Island, he could still live at home. The doctor called it an out…" Ba stumbled, groping for the word.

"Outpatient facility," finished Ruth, peering over his shoulder and pointing. "It says here it's for checkups and services after discharge. And for mild cases. You heard the doctor. His case isn't mild. He would have to go to the clinic every day. That's what? Two, three hours on the subway? Plus, he needs an operation."

Victor didn't want to think about surgery, but with the pain in his hands and the numbness in his arms getting worse every day, he knew he'd have to have it one way or another, either here or at Carville. The doctors kept talking to Ruth about Victor's case instead of Ba, who stood close by with his arms folded. And when she wasn't there, they spoke slower and louder, as if they thought he wouldn't be able to understand them otherwise. Victor was about to ask Ruth to explain his treatment plan again when he started to cough.

A glass of water stood sweating on his bedside table. He made an awkward grasp at it and fumbled as pain shot through his fingers, the skin there tight and burning. Rushing over to help, Ruth squeezed past Henry, whose whole body seemed to tense up when her full skirt brushed against his leg. She put the glass in Victor's hand and watched him gulp down the water before wiping his brow with the wet washcloth the nurse had left. Though the window was open, the hot, humid air of New York City in late summer did nothing to cool down the room.

"If he gets the operation here," Ruth continued, tucking a loose, dark curl behind her ear, "you'll have to pay for it yourself. But Carville is run by the government, so everything there is free."

Ba's eyebrows rose at the word "free." He nodded, fanning himself with the file. "I was thinking about taking out a loan, but the interest is very high. And we have to be careful or people will find out."

Victor frowned. He didn't know how much everything would cost, but the other day, he'd overheard Ba whispering to Ruth about his hospital bills. If Ba was already having trouble with those, how would he be able to send Ma and Grandmother their monthly stipend in China with the added expense of the surgery?

"What people?" Ruth pursed her lips. "Who cares what they think?"

"Ridiculous," muttered Henry in Toisanese. His eyes narrowed like a hawk's, putting Victor on edge.

"English," warned Ba. His nearly identical features echoed his elder son's.

"Maybe your mistress should learn to speak Chinese." Henry cut his eyes at Ruth and switched to English. "If people find out, we'll all pay for it, not just Victor."

"This kind of sickness makes people afraid," agreed Ba. "If they know he has it, they will blame the whole family, maybe say all the Chinese have it."

"He'll have to leave school," said Henry.

"Not if he goes to Carville. There's a school for patients," Ruth said, plucking one of the pamphlets out of the stack and showing him a picture of a small group of surprisingly healthy-looking teenagers smiling in a classroom. "See? Plenty of kids his age, too."

"What's the point if they're locking him up for the rest of high school anyway?" said Henry.

Excerpted from King of the Armadillos by Wendy Chin-Tanner. Copyright © 2023 by Wendy Chin-Tanner. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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