Book Review: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera – Funny and Thoughtful, a Story about Square Dancing, Friendship, and Fighting For What We Believe In – But At What Cost?

Lupe Wong Won't Dance by Donna Barba Higuera. Reviewed by CW.
Synopsis:

Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.

Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.

I read Lupe Wong Won’t Dance on a sunny weekend morning – and I cannot think of a better time of the day and week to have read this delightful and funny book. Lupe Wong Won’t Dance has a simple premise, but underneath the seemingly straightforward story is also an emotional and heartfelt story about friendship, the echoes of grief, and how, sometimes, we lose sight of how our actions affect people because of our own ambitions.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance follows Guadelupe “Lupe” Wong, a Chinacan/Mexinese (Mexican-Chinese) girl and baseball pitcher who made a deal with her uncle: get straight-A’s this year, and he’ll take her to meet Fu Li Hernandez, a Chinacan/Mexinese baseball pitcher who reminds Lupe of her father. Lupe is determined to meet Fu Li and getting straight-A’s is no problem for her – until her P.E. teacher announces that they have to do square dancing… and she’d rather eat raw maggot puke or eat banana slugs than square dance.

Told from Lupe’s perspective, the story’s narrative is immediately engaging, funny, and will definitely make you laugh. Lupe herself is headstrong, loyal, and also a little awkward – everything that young people coming into the world and shaping it in their own ways can relate to being. What I loved about all is that Lupe is fiercely passionate about things that she cares about and has championed causes her own life. Wielding Powerpoint presentations and utilising insights from her child psychologist neighbour, Lupe has fought for her school to recognise more race options on school tests. So when Lupe makes opposing square dancing her next cause, she does her research, she calls her principal into a meeting armed with a Powerpoint, and even accidentally starts a viral petition to cancel square dancing from the curriculum.

As someone who was also forced to do square dancing as a young kid too – and I was the same age as Lupe! – I could actually hear ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ resound in my mind. I didn’t love square dancing, and I remember trying my best to not look at my square dancing partner in the eye because of how awkward and weird dancing with them was, so I found Lupe’s mission hilarious and incredibly endearing.

However, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is more than just a story about a young girl’s opposition to square dancing; it’s also a story about how, sometimes the worthy causes that we commit ourselves to cause us to lose sight of what’s important. Though Lupe’s presentation about how ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ has a history intertwined with alcoholism, sylphilis (Lupe has no idea what it is, but does it matter?! It sounds terrible!), and even racism, is Lupe’s battle about getting her A in P.E., or is it really about making meaningful and positive change? I was delighted by how the story explores co-opting social causes for personal ones, with a heartwarming ending about traditions can ultimately change to be more inclusive. Furthermore, at the heart of Lupe’s mission is a heartfelt reason: she wants to meet her idol, Fu Li Hernandez, not only because he’s also Mexicanese/Chinacan like she is, but he also really reminds Lupe of her father, who has passed away. Thus, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is also subtly about grief, and the different ways that people find peace and comfort.

The relationships in Lupe Wong Won’t Dance are also a highlight. Lupe’s family was delightful; to her smug yet quietly loving brother who helps her square dance, to her supportive mother, and also her Chinese and Mexican grandparents who have an ongoing rivalry when it comes to cooking food and winning over their grandkids. Lupe’s friendships are wonderful too; they explore the highs and lows of friendship, when friendships change and how unsettling it can be, when your friends who you had a tradition with make new friends, all with empathy and thoughtfulness that people can relate to and connect with if they are going through the same struggles.

MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is ultimately a fun yet thoughtful story about square dancing, friendship, and advocacy. I loved Lupe’s fresh and hilarious narrative, that she gets moments to be imperfect and make mistakes but also find the bravery to make amends and own up to her mistakes. I adored Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, and I cannot wait to see what other stories Higuera will write in the future!

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A Chinacan/Mexinese girl sets on a cause to get rid of square dancing from her school’s curriculum when it threatens her goal to get straight A’s – and possibly ruin her chance to meet her idol.

Perfect for: young readers who love funny storytelling; readers looking for a light-hearted and fun read; readers who can relate to the woes of square dancing as a kid (and can empathise with Lupe’s mission)!

Think twice if: you’re not looking for a story with a ‘younger’ voice, or an ‘unlikeable’/flawed protagonist

Genre: middle grade contemporary

Trigger/content warning: mentions of a deceased parent, bullying, instances of racism

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