It’s 1952, and Azalea Ann Morgan, an 11-year-old white girl, doesn’t want to leave Texas and help Grandma Clark, who hurt her foot and lives in Paris Junction, Arkansas.
Worse, Mama appears dead set on leaving fast before dropping off Azalea with the grandmother Azalea barely knows and whose enormous garden will need serious tending. The last thing Azalea wants is to talk to strangers. And Paris Junction seems to be full of them. Right off the bat, Azalea sees someone she’s never seen before: a Chinese-American boy in a tree waving to her. The boy is Billy Wong, a budding reporter, whose family owns Lucky Foods, the only grocery store in town. Grandma Clark claims they can be friends, but Azalea has doubts. How she can become friends with someone from China? Can he even speak English? As garden helpers arrive, Azalea must interact with more strangers, including the town troublemaker. Despite their different backgrounds (and as the title suggests), a tender friendship between Azalea and Billy develops. Writing in alternating prose and verse voices for Azalea and Billy, respectively, Scattergood paints an honest portrait of two young characters dealing with quick judgments, prejudice, and racism. Azalea’s voice feels the more developed of the two and dominates the story. What’s needed are more insights from Billy and his unique perspective on this historical setting.
Even though this is mostly Azalea’s tale, it’s a refreshing novel inspired by real-life Chinese-American communities not often seen in stories. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)