Tofu Quilt

By Kirkus Reviews

In bright, quick free-verse snapshots, Russell highlights her childhood path to writing. At five, Ying visits relatives in Mainland China and effortlessly memorizes classical poems better than her older cousins, earning a life-changing reward: dan lai. ‘[I]t looks like a big, round moon / has fallen into my bowl,’ and after eating it, she refrains from brushing her teeth to savor the taste forever. But it’s expensive, and the town where it’s a specialty is too far from Hong Kong. Ying hears everywhere that boys are better than girls, but Ma sends her to private school even at the cost of grocery money. Maternal support, the praise of a few teachers (others mock her) and a cousin’s crucial declaration that ‘[d]an lai is made from milk. / Milk is protein, and / protein will strengthen your brain,’ convince Ying that she can and must become a writer—for the excuse of requiring ‘MORE dan lai!’ It’s clear that she truly loves writing anyway, but dan lai provides the sensory thread of this sweet, clear tale, which ends with two victories.