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4 March 2023 FINALLY SEEN by Kelly Yang, Simon & Schuster, February 2023, 304p., ISBN: 978-1-5344-8833-5


“Welcome to our most glorious nation

Papers please, and we'll get you on you way

Please, provide some identification

Tell me now, how long do you plan to stay?”

– Random Encounters, “Papers Please” (2018)


“Heart-glasses girl shrugs.

The cupcake purse steps up to the counter. ‘Can I get two free samples?’

‘Absolutely!’ the staff member behind the counter says.

Mom pokes me with a smile. I watch in disbelief as the server hands the girl two free small sample cups of the ice cream to taste. You can get FREE ice cream in this country?!

I dash to the counter. ‘Can I free too?’ I ask.

I hear a giggle behind me. I turn around to see heart-glasses girl laughing. Is she laughing at me? Did I say something wrong? Mom gives them some serious side-eye.

‘What flavor?’ the shop person asks me.

I glance at all the options and try my best to pronounce the flavor from the big board. I’m determined not to screw up like with the water in the airport. I’m going to get it right this time.

‘Chocolate Sheet Cake,’ I say, except I pronounce sheet, well, not ‘sheet.’ The girls start laughing hysterically.

‘We don’t have that one, unfortunately,’ the shop person says. ‘Would you like to try something else?’

‘Yes. Something else.’ I nod. That sounds like a great flavor.

Mom puts a hand on my shoulder. ‘Lina, let’s go,’ she says.

‘No! I haven’t gotten the ice cream yet,’ I protest in Chinese, wriggling my hand free. Can’t she see–I’m this close! If I leave now, all the snickers will be for nothing.

‘Stop,’ she says in English. I fall quiet. Her eyes beg me, Let’s go. And I follow reluctantly, dodging the burning stares from the snickering girls, who watch me and my mom with glee. 

all this without even a taste of Something Else.”


Ten-year-old Lina Gao has arrived in California from Beijing. Five years ago, her parents and her little sister left China, bound for America. Without Lina. Since then, Lina has lived in Beijing with her beloved grandmother Lao Lao, and her recently-deceased grandfather. Having begged her parents for permission to finally join them, Lina has now left her grandmother behind, and has reunited with a family she barely knows.


And it’s a family on the edge of economic disaster. Like so many of their apartment neighbors, Lina’s parents have not paid rent during the government’s COVID-related rent relief program. But, unlike most of their neighbors, it’s not a straightforward process for them to get government relief. Lina’s parents and sister entered America five years ago under her dad’s student visa. They still don’t have green cards and, so, they need to work “under the table.” 

Her father is working for a disreputable organic farmer who takes advantage of their immigration status to cheat him. Dad works six to six, six days a week, for a pathetically low wage, and a promise that the boss is going to get him a green card. Meanwhile, they barely have their heads above water, no less thousands of dollars of back rent for the landlord. How can they possibly gather up six months worth of back rent in the next six weeks before they are out on the street?


Why was Lina left behind five years ago? What is going to happen with their apartment when the landlord demands the back rent?


To top it all, that mean, snooty girl with heart glasses is in the class Lina joins on her second day in America. The tale involves bullying, prejudice, a kind boy, book banning, one of those good-guy school librarians, and a wonderful ESL teacher who, fortuitously, is a former child immigrant herself. 


Set in the recent pandemic past, and inspired by the author’s own childhood immigration memories, FINALLY SEEN is a powerful, moving, and sometimes very funny piece of fiction for middle grade readers. The emotional challenges Lina faces are vividly on display, particularly as she talks with her ELL teacher about leaving her grandmother behind in China and when, in her regular classroom, she creates a revealing self portrait of herself, stomach tied in knots, on the airplane to America. Kelly Yang’s depiction of these emotions and struggles make this a real standout of a book that highlights the intensity of the immigrant experience from a young person’s point of view.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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