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New from Here: 06/06/22
New from Here by Kelly Yang covers the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic and is inspired by the author's own attempt at keeping her three children safe by deciding to come back to the Bay Area in January 2020. The experience is narrated from the point of view of Knox, an elementary aged boy recently diagnosed with ADHD who is desperate to help his mother and earn enough money for his father's plane ticket after he choses to stay behind in Hong Kong.
By the first couple pages of the first chapter this novel was hitting hard. I live in the Bay Area and have ties to the local Chinese community because of my daughter's involvement in the local school district's Mandarin language program. I can recall our discussion over the earliest news as I was taking her and her older sister home for winter break.
Knox and his family move into a home they somehow own (or a family member owns) in a fictional equivalent to El Cerrito. While things at first seem like they will be okay, reading with 20/20 hindsight one can see early hints of things falling apart in the Bay Area.
At the time, cases weren't reported until early March but later research showed people were infected as early as the second week in January. Knox's family's choices to self isolate for two weeks upon arrival and their insistence on masks (when they could get them) and hand sanitizer, including learning how to make it, makes them seem paranoid to their fictional counterparts but completely sensible to readers.
The novel hits on the economic problems brought by the shut downs, the hoarding of supplies by the wealthy, the racism towards non-whites and especially towards anyone perceived as Chinese, and of course Trumps part in fueling the worst of these responses. All of these problems are further exasperated by Knox's attempts to help but not necessarily in useful ways in part from his ADHD and also his own youth.
It's hard to read and yet incredibly important to read. I hope this is a book that ends up in classrooms and on required reading lists. In the current political atmosphere I suspect it will also be challenged and banned, unfortunately.