A perceptive and powerful debut of identity and belonging—of a young woman determined to be seen.
Willa Chen has never quite fit in. Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl in New Jersey, Willa felt both hypervisible and unseen, too Asian to fit in at her mostly white school, and too white to speak to the few Asian kids around. After her parents’ early divorce, they both remarried and started new families, and Willa grew up feeling outside of their new lives, too.
For years, Willa does her best to stifle her feelings of loneliness, drifting through high school and then college as she tries to quiet the unease inside her. But when she begins working for the Adriens—a wealthy white family in Tribeca—as a nanny for their daughter, Bijou, Willa is confronted with all of the things she never had. As she draws closer to the family and eventually moves in with them, Willa finds herself questioning who she is, and revisiting a childhood where she never felt fully at home. Self-examining and fraught with the emotions of a family who fails and loves in equal measure, Win Me Something is a nuanced coming-of-age debut about the irreparable fissures between people, and a young woman who asks what it really means to belong, and how she might begin to define her own life.
About the Author:
Kyle Lucia Wu has received the Asian American Writers' Workshop Margins Fellowship and residencies from The Millay Colony, The Byrdcliffe Colony, Plympton's Writing Downtown Residency, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. She is the Programs & Communications Director at Kundiman and has taught creative writing at Fordham University and The New School.
"A resonant knockout." - T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
"Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa’s teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question—where do I truly belong?" - Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
"Kyle Lucia Wu’s Win Me Something is groundbreaking in its exploration of blended families and a biracial Asian American consciousness. In subtle but strikingly observed scenes that depict race, class, and lives of having and not having, she explores the secret want that we all have: to belong to something, somewhere. Here we find Willa, a biracial Chinese American narrator seeking to understand where she belongs in the family of things. Here is a prose writer who relishes in the poetry of language. Under Wu’s deft hand, each sentence unfolds like a miracle." - Cathy Linh Che, author of Split
"Like a latter-day Willa Cather, after whom her protagonist is named, Kyle Lucia Wu has written a beautiful novel about a fiercely American young woman whose Americanness is constantly questioned by those around her. This is a sad, funny, and tender coming-of-age story about what family and belonging means for someone who is realizing that she is constantly watched but not truly seen." - David Burr Gerrard, author of The Epiphany Machine
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 21 members
This is an exquisite novel about a young woman who feels herself separate from everything. Willa is bi-racial and feels replaced by her parents “second” families. Rather than trying to relate, she withdraws. She doesn’t feel Chinese or white, she feels that the world looks down on her because she is a misfit in both communities. Much of this inner-life and isolation is dissipated when she inadvertently becomes a nanny for the wealthy, privileged Tribeca family, the Adrians. She becomes attached to their daughter, Bijou. Once again she faces separation because she is neither servant nor family member. She is drawn to the mother, Nathalie, but finds herself hurt and confused. Though I often find it hard to relate to young protagonists, Willa is so beautifully drawn that I found her and the setting engaging. Like “The Nanny Diaries” and “Prep” I found myself immersed in the story and the writing, not the demographics. Honestly, I can’t think of any woman, daughter or mother who will not enjoy this novel. I highly recommend this to book groups of all ages. Thank you Netgalley for this lovely little jewel.
What exactly is the phrase, “Win me something”? Perhaps a demand, or a call to arms, or a request made between companions. For one to ask another to win a thing for them implies a particular sort of intimacy, for it is an intimate act, both to accrue and accept a debt. But there is also something troublingly ambiguous about the phrase. For what, exactly, is something? Why is it contingent upon material acquisition? And what is this unspecified debt? In Kyle Lucia Wu’s novel, the phrase “win me something” is not the defiant, declarative statement it first appears, but an offhand comment made between Willa (our protagonist) and her mother, when Willa's mother sends her to school after pulling her out for a “mental health day”. In a twist, the day off is a maneuver which Willa correctly discerns as selfish. Willa is forced to skip the day before for an important spelling test, and her mother sends her to school the next day, conscious of the text but unaware that there is no test left to win. This small moment in her debut novel is a microcosm of the emotional landscape of the book, how it highlights a mind warped by a lifetime of emotional precarity. Willa is a victim of this from both sides of her family--not quite of neglect, but of thoughtlessness. Kyle Lucia Wu’s emotional palette is considerable. She is always feinting at different ways a scene can be perceived, always thinking her way into a narrator for whom every scene is laced with a certain low-grade anxiety. It is a book in which the way that an egg is cook is drenched with meaning. This is a unique book, and a subtle one, and also a gentle one, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. A stunning literary debut from a voice I’d like to see more from.
I received a free, advance copy of this book through Netgalley for my honest review. I adore books with imperfect characters on journeys to better understand themselves, even if the journey is not taken with purpose. Willa Chen, a Chinese American in her early twenties, has struggled to find a place that felt like home to her, even within her own family. She grew up in a white community in New Jersey, with a Chinese father and white mother, but they divorced and formed new families, leaving Willa to not feel grounded in either part of this new life. These aspects of her life have left her feeling untethered and unsure of herself. When seeking a new job, a friend recommends that she babysit for a wealthy white family in Tribeca, a long subway haul from her not-trendy apartment in Brooklyn. This babysitting job leads to Willa becoming the live-in nanny for Bijou (because of course that's her name) and becoming a resident herself of this wealthy community. I found the writing to be stilted, but purposely so, which did so much to bolster the angst and unsettled existence of Willa, and is a sign of a very talented writer. The author navigates Willa's experiences of race based micro-aggressions, class divide, family dynamics, a boss/employee relationship, being a parent figure, social interactions, and even Willa's new found disposable income (thanks to not having to pay rent as a live-in nanny) in ways that make you feel the discomfort of not knowing where one might fit in. This author also manages to be sympathetic and kind to her young protagonist, without writing Willa in a way that diminishes the very real struggles that she faces, which isn't always the case in books written about young women struggling to find themselves. This is a really special book, and I'm excited for this new author. I'm excited to read anything else she would publish. Also, I would really love a Willa-revisited in her late 30s book as a follow up....She's a character that I don't want to leave in her twenties...I want to see her grow.
Willa has always been on the outside looking in. Half Asian, half white, she fits into neither group in her suburban community growing up. Her parents divorced and started new families, neither of which she feels truly a part of. After feeling like she has spent her life as an afterthought, she takes a job as a nanny for a wealthy white family in New York, leading her to question her family, her upbringing, and how she might truly belong. Win Me Something is a coming of age style novel, as Willa navigates who she really is and tries to learn where she belongs. Her parents leave a lot to be desired, both sets keeping her on the periphery of their newer families and not realizing what she might need. She's a rather sympathetic character, especially due to the benign neglect of her parents, and the reader wants her to succeed in spite of them.
A very successful debut novel! I'm drawn to novels and non-fiction on bi-racial characters because my own children are bi-racial. Wu's novel is an unusual one in the genre of White-Asian biracial families because it is the mother who is white and the father who is Chinese. Her parents are divorced and both have started new families. Willa does not feel she belongs at either home and she finds a new home as a Nanny with a wealthy NYC family. She doesn't belong there either, but she discovers more and more about herself as she tries on different identities. Nanny stories are always fun as they provide a glimpse of how other people live. And Willa is certainly not a perfect Nanny. It is. both a light and heavy read. Highly recommended. Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.
Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 3.5 / 5 Characters: 4/5 Lit Hub lists this as one of the “22 novels you need to read this fall,” so I moved it to the top of my review list. Willa is the bi-racial (Asian dad, white mom) daughter of parents who divorced when she was young and moved on to build new families. Somewhat adrift in New York City after finishing college, she falls into a live-in nanny position with a wealthy family and a precocious child and wonders what life would be like to be part of such a (in her eyes) perfect family. The story alternates between the present day and various experiences in Willa’s past. What I liked about this book was the content-rich and easily flowing writing style and the high degree of reflectivity on the part of the main character. While at times it appeared to move slowly, that is a good reflection of how normal life proceeds, and I enjoyed the access to Willa’s mind as she slowly came to understand what was important to her and how she could make changes in her own behavior to make her life be what she wanted. I also liked the way the story focused on Willa as an individual and not as a representative of a particular group. It traces the impact of her various experiences (some teasing at school for being Asian, lack of attention in her broken home situation, etc.) without calling attention to an overly dramatic agenda. It’s a personal story of an individual.