Summary: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is Donna Barba Higuera’s debut middle-grade novel. Her protagonist Lupe is a Mexican-Chinese girl who loves baseball. Her Chinese father died several years ago, so she lives with her Mexican mom and her brother Paolo. However, both her abuela and her Chinese grandparents are very present in their lives. Lupe is excited to get all A’s this year because her uncle has promised her a meeting with baseball star Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese like her if she does. But all of a sudden, there’s a new development in her gym class: Coach wants them to do square dancing instead of like, actual sports. And guess what? Lupe does not dance.
In response to the new square dancing arrangement, Lupe starts a cause to abolish square dancing, which she thinks is archaic. I mean, only the boys get to choose their partners and it just has to be boy and girl partners only. Between her anti-square dance plans, managing her friendships with Andy (Andralusia, her Black female BFF), and Niles (her autistic male best friend), dealing with her funny grandparents, and missing her father, Lupe learns a lot about herself and being kind.
Lupe is a memorable character, and the side characters are also well drawn. Andy is a parent-pleasing child who enrolls in everything from soccer to coding (even when she doesn’t want to) to please her parents. Niles is an autistic boy who does karate, loves sci-fi and comic books, and is a remarkably good friend. There’s also Gordon who’s accident-prone, and whom Lupe finds annoying at the start of the novel. A lot of this story also happens at school, so we get to see many other characters in several classmates. Higuera does a great job of creating distinct personalities.
Another layer of this story is Lupe’s existence as biracial (she can’t tick just the “Hispanic” or “Asian” boxes). We see how she straddles both cultures both at home and in the world. I can see this book being valuable to other biracial kids of not-so-common ethnic combinations. Lupe’s strong opinions get her in some trouble with her friend, Andy, and it was interesting to read how the two figured things out.
Other strong themes in this story? Sports, square dancing and humor. Readers will laugh out loud at the gym antics and jokes from Lupe’s brother, Lupe, and her family in general. Yet, some serious issues such as racism, gender inequality, and the grief of losing a parent. Finally, readers will learn a lot about square dancing and its at-times unpleasant past.
Overall: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is a strong, funny debut about the trials of middle-school, especially for a sports-loving girl who refuses to stay boxed in by society. This novel tackles serious issues such as the death of a parent, racism, and gender inequality, with plenty of heart and humor. Friendships, life as Mexicanese/Chinacan (biracial; Chinese-Mexican), and the history of square dancing are also front and center in this one. Highly recommended for lovers of funny sports books and fans of Millicent Min — another Asian girl with strong opinions who is forced into a gym activity she despises.
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is out September 8.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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More Books Like Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
- The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
- The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
- Chirp by Kate Messner
What are your favorite sports middle-grade books? I love books about characters navigating more than one culture, and this is a great example. Other multicultural middle-grade books can be found in this post.