Maizy, the main character of Lisa Yee's Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, is a Chinese-American girl from Los Angeles. She and her mom are spending the summer in Last Chance, Minnesota, where Maizy’s grandparents own a restaurant. They are also 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?” Or they’d tell me that I spoke English very well. 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 exactly what Maizy has to do.
2. Maizy is also a writer, like you.
Yes, she observes customers at the Golden Palace restaurant and writes fortunes just for them. And the fortunes make them happy. Maizy might not realize it, but she’s a storyteller. She has the power of words.
3. Why did you write some parts of the book 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 for a teenager to come to America, not knowing anybody or speaking the language, trying to start a life here. I could have written an entire book about Lucky’s adventures.
4. There are similarities between Lucky’s story and the anti-Asian attacks in recent news.
I started writing the book before the pandemic. As I was writing, the crimes that happened against Lucky, generations ago, started happening to people in the present. It was strange. Fiction was becoming fact.
5. What should readers take away from the book?
I want you to feel like you’re part of these characters’ family. And maybe it’ll inspire you to ask your mom or dad, or grandma and grandpa, what was it like for them growing up. As a kid, I wasn’t that interested. 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.