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Summary and book reviews of Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu

Win Me Something

by Kyle Lucia Wu

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu X
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Nov 2021, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A perceptive and powerful debut of identity and belonging - of a young woman determined to be seen.

Willa Chen has never quite fit in. Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl in New Jersey, Willa felt both hypervisible and unseen, too Asian to fit in at her mostly white school, and too white to speak to the few Asian kids around. After her parents' early divorce, they both remarried and started new families, and Willa grew up feeling outside of their new lives, too.

For years, Willa does her best to stifle her feelings of loneliness, drifting through high school and then college as she tries to quiet the unease inside her. But when she begins working for the Adriens―a wealthy white family in Tribeca―as a nanny for their daughter, Bijou, Willa is confronted with all of the things she never had. As she draws closer to the family and eventually moves in with them, Willa finds herself questioning who she is, and revisiting a childhood where she never felt fully at home. Self-examining and fraught with the emotions of a family who fails and loves in equal measure, Win Me Something is a nuanced coming-of-age debut about the irreparable fissures between people, and a young woman who asks what it really means to belong, and how she might begin to define her own life.

Paperback original.

Excerpt
Win Me Something

New York City, 2013

I didn't know what it looked like to take care of someone. I imagined that being a nanny meant watching a small person bounce her backpack home from school, microwaving chicken nuggets on a paper-toweled plate, and lying with an arm folded behind my head while the bright colors of a cartoon flashed. The intricacies of it hadn't occurred to me—that I'd have to sniff her palms to discern the citrus scent of soap and scrape dirt from underneath her fingernails. How I'd end up eating a room-temperature scoop of macaroni and cheese off her plate and raking lice shampoo through her soapy scalp. Maybe I couldn't imagine these moments because when someone asked about my childhood, my mind clenched and closed like two fists in a pool—fingers squeezing for something to come up with when everything around them was a different kind of matter.

I had parents. I had siblings. I had homes, multiple or zero, depending on how you looked at it. I...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Win Me Something is a searching book. In your opinion, what is Willa looking for?
  2. Food plays an important role in terms of comfort, identity, connection, and more. Discuss how the author uses food in both communal and personal ways.
  3. Win Me Something flashes back in time to Willa's childhood. Why do you think the author made the decision to show Willa's upbringing?
  4. Flowers are a recurring image—what might be their significance?
  5. Throughout the novel, racism and prejudice are pervading themes. How do they manifest overtly in scenes and also in subtext?
  6. New York and New Jersey are both important settings—what parts of each do we see, and why do you think we are shown certain locations?
  7. Mothers play critical roles in Win Me ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Win Me Something isn't about Willa's suffering or lack of power. It isn't about her taking back power, either. It's a subtly rendered and satisfying story of someone on the verge of beginning to know herself — gentle and confident in its shifts of direction, blossoming in complexity like a fine wine as it opens into the reader's mind. Rife with social and internal tensions as well as the fraught mentality of late adolescence, it is a quiet, reflective read with a long, delicate finish...continued

Full Review (835 words).

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

LitHub
Wu's beautifully observed coming-of-age tale is a poignant and lyrical meditation on navigating the world with a fragmented sense of self.

Shelf Awareness
A subtle, wise debut...Win Me Something is a nuanced story of longing, of the paired desires to belong and to strike one's own path. Willa is a quiet heroine, but unforgettable.

New York Times
Occasionally the narrator's circling obsession with food weighs down the narrative, but the overall effect conveys how fraught basic functioning can be for Willa, who feels she fits in nowhere...A picture emerges of a young woman who wants nothing more than to conjure a home in that impossible space between hyper-visibility and invisibility, to forever forestall the cruelties of being known and thus categorized. Wu's finely crafted sentences and crisp imagery render visceral Willa's inner disquiet as she simmers in that ambiguity.

Washington Post
[A] lovely coming-of-age story that will resonate with anyone who's felt separate, or questioned where they belong.

Publishers Weekly
Wu's compassionate debut traces one woman's search for belonging via her memories of growing up in two households...Through the characters' kinships—some familial, some chosen—Wu brilliantly lays out the complicated dynamics of love, belonging, and care that exist within all relationships. Fans of Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age will love this.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[I]mpressive...Ultimately, expect subtle surprises as Willa's relationships evolve in a satisfying accumulation of carefully drawn small moments that build toward her understanding, even acceptance, of both an imperfect world and herself. No fireworks here, but everyday struggles rendered into a deeply poignant story.

Author Blurb Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk
Masterfully reveals the fury, hope, and longing that come with trying to be seen in a world that never looks for you.

Author Blurb Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa's teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question―where do I truly belong?

Author Blurb Cathy Linh Che, author of Split
Kyle Lucia Wu's Win Me Something is groundbreaking in its exploration of blended families and a biracial Asian American consciousness. In subtle but strikingly observed scenes that depict race, class, and lives of having and not having, she explores the secret want that we all have: to belong to something, somewhere. Here we find Willa, a biracial Chinese American narrator seeking to understand where she belongs in the family of things. Here is a prose writer who relishes in the poetry of language. Under Wu's deft hand, each sentence unfolds like a miracle.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Willa Cather and the American Outsider Experience

Black and white photograph of Willa CatherWilla Chen, the main character in Kyle Lucia Wu's Win Me Something, mentions that her mother named her after the writer Willa Cather. This connection is significant in that Willa expects to be asked about her name in the context of her Chinese heritage, and is surprised when her employer's brother asks about the origin of her first name instead of her last. It is also significant in that Cather, now considered a quintessentially American writer, wrote stories about immigrants and characters who feel like outsiders in American society, as Willa often feels. As author David Burr Gerrard says in a blurb for the book, "Like a latter-day Willa Cather, after whom her protagonist is named, Kyle Lucia Wu has written a beautiful novel about a ...

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