Lina, the main character in Finally Seen by Kelly Yang (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February 2023) has grown up with her grandmother in China, while her young sister and parents have spent the last years living in California without her. Now it is her chance to move to the United States to live with her family, but she finds that life in the U.S. is not what she expected.
While Lina deals with the feelings of betrayal from her parents, she also now faces the challenges of a school taught completely in her second language, as well as the universal challenge of finding friends. The social situation is familiar to any tween in middle school, and so although Lina had additional challenges, the reader will quickly feel her discomfort and relate to her story.
It turns out that Lina’s parents had written exaggerations in their letters home, which was why they had hesitated to bring her to the US. Lina feels betrayed by this when she sees the impoverished situation her family lives in. She also resents the lack of apology from her parents. She desperately hopes for a positive relationship with her parents, but the closeness between them and her sister constantly reminds her that she is not a part of the family in the same way Millie is.
In this middle grade novel, however, Lina begins to find her place as well as her voice. In her school, a girl’s family challenges the book they are reading. Lina, who had finally found a mirror to her own story in the book, decides that the time for remaining silent is over. As she speaks up for her own wants and needs during the book banning discussion, her family finally sees her as the strong individual that she is.
I really liked Lina. She was such a likable girl, and her feelings of betrayal, discomfort, and loneliness resonated with me, as I’m sure they will with other readers! I strongly disliked her parents, starting with the fact that they didn’t even bother to put pictures of Lina on their walls, but instead limited the photos to Lina’s sister and their family of three. The parents had also make poor decisions, such as working for an abusive farmer who underpaid them, abused them verbally, and demanded extensive overtime without extra pay. To some extent, despite my dislike, I did pity them in their unique situation as immigrants in a foreign country.
Maybe this contrast with her parents is why I liked Lina so much. Because she grew up with a different perspective on America and spent her formative years in a comfortable situation in China, she was able to see the poor situation her parents had put themselves in. Her outside perspective, and her ability to finally speak up, helped her family, and when she is “finally seen” by them, they too can step outside of their poor situation and become more successful, thanks to her strong leadership and perspective.
Lina’s story is completely unique to me, since I had never considered immigrants leaving one of their children behind in this way. I wonder if this is a common decision for immigrants to the US. At any rate, I wish other children in similar situations can have as satisfactory a story as Lina’s ultimately was.
I read a digital review copy of Lina’s story.