Eleven-year-old Azalea is not happy. No sir, not happy at all. In fact, she refuses to speak to her mother the whole miserable car ride from Texas to Arkansas. Her summer is going to be miserable. She may even miss the sixth grade picnic. Her Grandma Clark saw to that. Why did she have to go and hurt her foot? Why does she need Azalea? It's not like they even know each other. And what about the family visit to the Grand Canyon?
To add insult to injury, Azalea is on the shy side and definitely not good at making friends, or even meeting new people. In Paris Junction, it seems that's all she does. Everyone in the small town her parents could not wait to flee seems to be in each other's business. When she spies a boy in the distance and her grandmother tells her about Billy Wong, Azalea is not sure about being friends with a boy, let alone one who is Chinese. Billy has recently moved in with his great-uncle and aunt in order to attend school as he is barred from his local school thanks to segregation. He and his family still deal with racism though. Billy is especially worried about Willis DeLoach, a troubled young man who was caught stealing from Billy's uncle's store and has to do some sort of community service helping Grandma Clark in her huge garden. The majority of this story is told in the first-person by Azalea with occasional lists or notes written by Billy.
I can always count on August Scattergood for gentle, thought-provoking reads. Each of her books (Glory Be and The Way to Stay in Destiny) have surprised and delighted me for their interesting and complex characters in unique historical settings. Readers may be surprised to learn of the segregation of Chinese-Americans in the south.
Please make time for Making Friends with Billy Wong and allow Azalea to find a place in your heart. The audiobook, narrated by Kate Simses and Todd Haberkorn was just wonderful. Simses' melodic voice and thoughtful, leisurely pace brings Azalea, who can be as prickly as her grandmother, to wonderful life. Haberkorn's clipped earnest voice portrays Billy through his notes and lists. The author reads her Author Note at the end.
Both the book and the audio are wonderful additions to the middle grade collection.