Kyle Lucia Wu’s debut novel, “Win Me Something,” released Nov. 2, traces from childhood to young adulthood twenty-four-year-old Willa Chen’s desperation to be seen when she takes on a part-time job as a nanny for a wealthy white family in New York.
Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl, Willa was invisible in all aspects of her life. She felt unseen at school and at work, and when her parents divorced early in her life, both starting new lives and new families, Willa remained on the outside—a stranger in both homes.
As time passed, she learned to ignore the unsettling feeling inside her. But when she begins to nanny Bijou, the precocious nine-year-old daughter of the wealthy Nathalie and Gabe Adrien, Willa enters a world dissimilar from the one she grew up in. She is suddenly faced with memories from the past and begins to examine who she is, who she wants to be, and what it meant to grow up in a place she could never truly call her home.
Willa is an awkward character; she is self-conscious, says the wrong things at the wrong times, and makes mistakes that had my shoulders shrug to my ears. I do, however, think that this makes her more believable, as Wu captures the conflicted and confusing feelings of a person going through change perfectly in Willa’s character. The story centers around exploration— to do this requires making mistakes, illustrated by Willa’s behaviors and inner thoughts.
Although it is not plot-heavy, the novel is compelling; the present-day narration is complemented with interspersed scenes from Willa’s childhood, as her memories of loneliness and distant parents are juxtaposed with Bijou’s desirable lifestyle. Wu’s writing style, though nuanced, is fluid, making it an easy read. The novel felt slow at times, seeming to mirror the way real-life moves, but does not get boring.
“Win Me Something” is an observant coming-of-age story that explores the complexities of growing up caught between worlds.
I would recommend this novel and give it 4/5 stars.