Maizy Chen’s Last Chance

Maizy Chen's Last Chance book


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Book Review

Maizy Chen is spending the summer in Last Chance, Minnesota, trying to help her sick grandpa. While she’ there, Maizy investigates her family history and wrestles with the prejudice that her ancestors faced and that her family still encounters.

Plot Summary

Maizy and her mom leave Los Angeles behind for the summer to visit Last Chance, Minnesota. Maizy’s grandparents, Opa and Oma, run a Chinese restaurant in the small town. But since Opa has gotten sick, they both need a little help.

Maizy quickly warms up to the town and the grandparents she’d only met once before. Opa teaches her to play poker, and Oma makes delicious food. Although Maizy encounters racism and bullies, she also finds kindness where she wouldn’t expect it.

Over the course of the summer, Opa tells Maizy about their ancestor Lucky Chen. Lucky immigrated to America and worked as a cook in the railroad worker camps, then as a cook for a wealthy man in San Francisco. When he was falsely accused of a crime, Lucky fled San Francisco and ended up working for a restaurant in Last Chance.

After years of hard work, Lucky bought the restaurant, which he eventually renamed the Golden Palace. Though he encountered racism and violence for much of his life, the kind people in Last Chance convinced Lucky and his family to stay, even though they continued to face discrimination. Lucky lived to an old age and passed the restaurant on to his son who passed it on to Maizy’s grandpa.

Maizy loves hearing the stories and helping in the restaurant, but then something terrible happens. Bud the bear, the beloved wooden statue that has stood outside the Golden Palace for decades, is stolen.

Between the town bullies and mean customers, Maizy has a few guesses about who might have taken the bear. However, with the summer winding down and Opa’s health worsening, she knows that she needs to find the bear and prove who took it before it’s too late.

Christian Beliefs

A funeral is conducted at a church.

Other Belief Systems

In China, boys were valued while girls were seen as a burden. Maizy’s friend Ginger carries a worry stone. She believes rubbing it makes worries better. Maizy’s mom states that marriage is old-fashioned. Statues of Budai (a rotund, laughing figure thought to be an incarnation of the Buddha) and Ying and Yang are mentioned. Maizy’s friend Logan makes wishes in an old well.

Authority Roles

Maizy’s mom is fair and loving. Maizy’s grandparents dote on her.

Profanity & Violence

When the story flashes back, many immigrants die on a ship ride from China. Lucky’s friend Le Wei dies in an accident while working on the railroad. Mean men call Lucky a degrading racial epithet (and someone writes the same epithet outside the Golden Palace while Maizy is visiting). Lucky is beaten by racist men. On a different occasion, drunk men pull Lucky out of the restaurant. They fight and point a gun at him, but then the sheriff arrives. One man fires a gun repeatedly but only hits the wooden bear. The Golden Palace is set on fire on two different occasions. Whiskey bottles are mentioned. Teenagers get drunk on whiskey. Someone dies in the hospital.

Sexual Content

Maizy’s mom talks about how she got pregnant with Maizy through a donor. Principal Holmes is gay and married to a man.

Discussion Topics

Read Genesis 1:27, 3:28, Acts 10:43 and Romans 10:12. What can these verses teach us about how God sees people? How should this affect how we see people?

Read Mark 12:31. Do you ever struggle to treat people like you should? Why?

Has anyone ever been mean to you? What did you do? Do you think you should do anything differently next time?

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Additional Comments

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance offers an important look into Asian-American history and the discrimination that immigrants have faced. However, some of the violence depicted might be too much for young readers. Additionally, the book includes a bit of LGBT content and might encourage readers to reject traditional marriage.

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Review by Rachel Pfeiffer