This is a quiet story without a lot of adventure or crazy plot lines or outlandish characters. But if you like to read about someone who feels real, Anna is the perfect character to get to know. She is introspective and thoughtful, but it is not easy for her to make friends. Instead, Anna reads…a lot. This novel is peppered with references to various books and their characters, from the classic A Wrinkle in Time to Jacqueline Woodson’s lesser known Hush, as Anna reads her way through what might have been a very lonely year. As circumstances arise, Anna discovers that sometimes she is embarrassed of things that used to never bother her, like her mother’s job as a housekeeper, but she also finds courage to embrace parts of herself that others might not understand, like practicing Chinese writing. When her former best friend Laura needs a place to stay while her parents work through a messy divorce, Anna begins to realize that probably there’s more to everyone than what we see on the outside, which means she is really not so different from everyone else. I love Anna’s interesting relationships with people from her community – the crossing guard, an elderly man, and her wonderful teacher. Abigail Halpin’s illustrations throughout add to the novel’s charm and teach the reader how to make some of the crafts and food that are part of Anna’s year. This is a short novel, but Cheng leaves readers with much to think about afterwards. I enjoyed reading the author’s thoughts on this book, ending with: Year of the Book is like a collage of my family, neighbors, and friends. I hope that readers will see part of themselves in Anna and her friends as they navigate the world of family, friends, and community.
reviewed by Jennifer