The Many Masks of Andy Zhou

Dial. Jun. 2023. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525553823.
Gr 5 Up–Andy Zhou is entering sixth grade with a lot on his plate. His best friend, Cindy, has decided they’re both dyeing their hair blond and joining the after-school dance program Movement (without telling their parents). His grandparents are visiting from China for an unknown length of time. And, his irreverent classmate Jameel picks on him at every opportunity. Andy gets to know Jameel, and the two strike up a friendship while he feels Cindy growing more distant and changing physically. He copes with this and the declining health of his grandfather, Ah Dia, by sketching, pulling out his hair, and working on crew for Movement’s production of Lord of the Flies. This is a gentle tale of juggling shifting friendships, tough secrets, and the weight of trying to make everyone happy. Andy’s first-person narration is eminently readable; Cheng’s comedic timing and poignant use of metaphor make it easy to picture Andy’s anxiety and self-consciousness as he braves middle school. Rich descriptions abound of Andy’s Chinese and Jameel’s Chaldean cultures, including food, performance, and family dynamics. The plot has an open conclusion: nothing complex is fully “fixed,” but Andy is on the road to making amends with those he loves and establishing his own identity. The novel opens with a content note for bullying, racism, trichotillomania, arental death, and anorexia, and Cheng’s author’s note includes a number of relevant support resources.
VERDICT A beautiful, contemplative novel that will stay with readers. Recommended for fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Nicole Melleby.

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