I knew I had to pick Anna Mei, Blessing in Disguise for my latest Catholic Company review title, because otherwise my daughter would disown me. I’d picked up the first Anna Mei title last winter, shopping at the Pauline Media table between breaks at a catechist training session. My 10-year-old enjoyed the book, and I’d meant to read it, but never gotten around to it. I’ve now fixed that problem, and of course created a new one: I need to buy Escape Artist to round out our collection.
About the series: Anna Mei, the title character, is the adopted Chinese daughter, and only child, of the Anderson family. In the first book, Cartoon Girl, the family has just moved from Boston to a small town in Michigan. It’s Anna Mei’s first time being the new kid; she has to figure out how to make new friends and fit in, as well as come to terms with questions about her identity that had never been a problem before. In Blessing in Disguise, Anna Mei is in 7th grade, and plagued by the visiting Chinese ex-pats her parents think should be her new best friends, but with whom Anna Mei feels she has nothing in common.
Who’s it for: Older elementary and middle school girls. (Though I enjoyed reading them — I think they’re good mom books, too.) The action is largely emotional — loads of inner turmoil, self-examination, and the occasional eye roll or shouting match; zero crime scenes, zombies, or ninjas. It’s about the quintessential junior-high girl topics, identity and relationships. Reading level is similar to the American Girl History Mystery Series.
Catholic Reality Index: High. The setting is a good-but-normal public school. The Andersons are practicing Catholics; they say grace before meals, they go to Mass on Sunday, and two or three times during the book we catch Anna Mei saying a quick prayer of desperation. But the action is set in everyday, universally-experienced life. Problems aren’t solved by rosary marathons or visions of saints, but through normal problem-solving techniques like talking-it-out, or working-really-hard. For Catholic kids, the faith aspect will be an affirmation of their religious identity, but for non-Catholic readers, it’s just a normal story about a kid who happens to be Catholic. Basic model, average-American 21st century suburban Catholic, no rad-trad crazes, no apologetics ax to grind, just normal everyday Catholics.
Parent Approval Index: High. Anna Mei’s a good kid. When she does something wrong, her conscience bugs her. She knows she shouldn’t lie, and usually doesn’t; when she does, she immediately regrets it. The Anderson parents are good-but-normal parents. Not the enemy, not the idiot, not the clueless bumbler who has no idea what’s going on in the child’s life. We see them consciously trying to make good parenting decisions; when Anna Mei’s at odds with her parents, it bothers her.
Hokiness Index: None. With adoptive-child-turmoil as one of the themes, there was a real risk of handling the situation in a superficial, contrived, or melodramatic way. You know all the stupid things bystanders say to adoptive parents. None of that. This is a well-adjusted, happy family, and Anna Mei’s problems fit into normal tweenage questions about friendship and family. Very nicely done.
Verdict: These are great books. If you’re looking for clean, enjoyable fiction for your girls, these are fun, readable, and possibly even helpful as discussion-starters. Blessing in Disguise also has an extensive set of discussion questions at the end of the book, for use in book clubs or for school.
10-year-old reviewer says:
This book is a really great book. It’s well-written. And it’s just an awesome book. I like how they’re set in modern times, but they’re not weirdly written and strange and boring.
On who would like the book:
I’d say people who like to read books about problems and finding out if there’s something behind the problem that they just didn’t expect, and the problem gets worked out at the end. And everything turns out well.
As always, thanks to The Catholic Company for their spoiling-Catholic-bloggers program, in which people like me (and perhaps you, too) get free books in exchange for goofing off on the internet telling the world what we honestly think. They remind me to tell you they are also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources.