Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.
As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.
Review: Lucy and Linh is an exquisitely written, sharp, and unflinchingly honest. I wish this book was written when I was in high school. It perfectly captured my feelings and frustrations of being an outsider in an affluent school where many students lived in a bubble.
Lucy Lam’s parents are ethnic Chinese immigrants who came to Melbourne, Australia, via Vietnam. She comes from a lower middle class family and her parents both work extremely hard to keep the family afloat. Her father works at a carpet factory, and her mother cranks out hundreds of garments from her workshop in their garage while her baby brother (nicknamed the Lamb) plays nearby. When Lucy unexpectedly wins a competition for the inaugural Equal Access scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda Ladies’ College, everyone assumes the superior education she receives there will help her lift up her family economically.
As Lucy confides in a series of letters to Linh, her closest companion, however, she recounts her real life at Laurinda as she struggles with this pull-push desire to assimilate to the Laurinda culture and being true to her roots. It is very rare for me to personally connect with a fictional character on so many levels as I did with Lucy. Like her I felt like an alien in my own school and could not comprehend no matter how much I tried to understand the majority of my peers' careless luxury and indulgent behaviors. I had to work three times as hard in my academics as my peers since my foundation skills no way near matched theirs. The only big difference between Lucy and myself (despite of course she being fictional) is that I already new my place on the social structure of my school and it took Lucy a while to get there too.
Lucy harbors a secret desire to belong, specifically to the Cabinet where three powerful white girls who rule the school. They take Lucy under their wing, partly because they can count on her to keep their secret agendas and partly because they see her as their charity case. Lucy is keenly aware of this as she perceives how toxic they are to both fellow students and faculty they deem unworthy. The author does a great job in using the Cabinet as a symbol of what people around Lucy want her to achieve and throwing light on how Lucy's dilapidated home is both hopelessly shabby and something worth protecting fiercely. I could not help but cheer loudly as Lucy has her epiphany in which assimilating to the Cabinet is the same thing as inclusion and for standing up and refusing to throw away her own identity and instead embracing herself. Lucy’s voice is one that I would not likely forget and I find myself thinking about her long after I finished this book. Lucy and Linh is a real, unvarnished look at the social structure of high school and a young teen trying to navigate two worlds that she live in without compromising her own values. A must read.
Rating: 5 stars
Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of bullying both implicit and explicit, and mention of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.
If you like this book try: Prep by Curtis Sittenfield