Maizy, the main character of Lisa Yee's Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, is a Chinese-American girl from Los Angeles. She’s spending the summer in Last Chance, Minnesota, where her grandparents own a restaurant. They’re the only Asian-American people in town. After the restaurant becomes the target of a racist attack, Maizy sets out to learn more about her family’s history.
1. Was this story inspired by your childhood?
Like Maizy, I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Later, I moved to a part of the country where I was the only Asian-American person around. People would ask where I was from. I’d say, “Los Angeles,” and they’d say, “No, where are you really from?” I didn’t get it, at first. When you’re comfortable in your surroundings, you don’t think about it. Then you step outside of your comfort zone. That’s what Maizy has to do.
2. Maizy is also a writer, like you.
Yes, she observes customers at the restaurant and writes fortunes for them. This makes people happy. Maizy might not realize it, but she’s a storyteller. She has the power of words.
3. Some of the book is told from the perspective of Maizy’s great-great-grandfather Lucky.
I learned so much in researching the Chinese-American experience. I imagined what it would be like to come to America, not knowing anybody or speaking the language. I could have written an entire book about Lucky’s adventures.
4. What can readers learn from the book?
I hope it inspires you to ask your mom or dad, or grandma and grandpa, what was it like for them growing up. As a kid, I should have listened, the way Maizy does. We all have amazing stories in our families. They need to come out.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.