Riding high off the success of her first young adult novel Chinglish from 2019, Sue Cheung has spent the last year during lockdown writing her follow-up – Maddy Yip’s Guide to Life. Aimed at children age 8+, Sue describes it as the book she always wanted to read as a kid. And when I interviewed her for online East Asian news and features website Resonate, she told me it was brilliant working on it to get her through the doom and gloom of the pandemic.
The first in what will be a series of books – presumably all revolving around 11-year-old Maddy Yip and her mad family and friends, Guide to Life follows Maddy as she attempts to find out what her special talent is. There are plenty of hilarious adventures and failings that range from tame recorder recitals to attempting to breakdancing without breaking anything, and from burning cakes to attempting to be the next Paul Daniels. We are introduced to her OTT drama queen best friend Dev, her annoying younger and older brothers, fitness freak mum, artistic but trampy (going through skips!) dad, and her increasingly forgetful granddad, as well as the “evil twins” her mum babysits (well, seems to leave her kids to do) and the various animals they look after along the way – or don’t, as the case may be.
Because the book is primarily for children (though it does not stop us adults enjoying it, of course), I’ve decided to review it as if for a child. So if you’ve got kids who are the ideal age to be reading this, here’s my recommendation. It’s easy to read and follow, so perfect for young kids with very few words they wouldn’t know in KS2 (that’s age 7-11). It’s extremely relatable as we’ve all had crazy, fun adventures as children, dabbling in many different hobbies and thinking our main goal is to be great at something we can take pride in. At the same time, we know children can also be competitive – they want to excel at things and be better than others, often very determined to prove that they can be. Maddy Yip is no different. As the middle child she almost feels hopeless in comparison when her brothers have trophies and certificates, as does her mum and even her granddad. While her dad is the talented creative type.
Parts of the story take twists that make you feel a bad turn has happened to some of the characters but ultimately, Maddy Yip’s Guide to Life is a humorous take on life as an 11-year-old trying to find her way in the real world – the real world of a kid, anyway. As with Chinglish, the book is presented in a diary-like format and contains plenty of comical illustrations by Cheung herself, in the same style as those in Chinglish. Sue is a compelling author with creative juices galore and the ability to tell stories through words and art, with wit, humour, excitement and drama. I’m glad this is a series as I was yearning for more by the end of it. It’s a great introduction to this series as we get to know each of the characters and hope some of their activities and lives are explored more in future instalments, particularly her two brothers and Dev. And what else could Maddy possibly teach us about life from her point of view? Plenty, I’m sure!
What I liked about Maddy Yip’s Guide to Life is the normality it presents of having a half-Chinese girl as the main character. Her half-Chineseness is – though like some in reality, practically non-existent except for appearance and DNA – not a main focus of the story. There are references to Chinese culture and traditions, but Maddy Yip is – as mentioned before – much like any other 11-year-old girl, navigating through her childhood. She, as Sue Cheung says herself, just happens to be Chinese. While ethnicity is far from a pivotal aspect of the story, this representation is still important, especially for the many children like Maddy and Dev who were born in the UK and whether or not they are mixed race or not – do not feel their ethnic identity defines them at that age. There is more to them than that – such as talents and skills that they may or not even really enjoying doing or will continue to do as they grow older – as Maddy herself will tell us in book 2 and beyond.
The sequel, “Maddy Yip’s Guide to Holidays” will be out on 7th May 2022 and is available to pre-order online now.