by Kelly Yang
Love is the only vaccine for hate.”
I’m an elementary school teacher.
I have three elementary school-aged children of my own. Two years and an eternity into congruent pandemics – a war with a virus and another with racism – while much of life has resumed “business-as-usual,” my colleagues and I often find ourselves wondering why does this still feel so hard? We find ourselves asking, why are children and teachers still struggling to stand on solid ground?
Like everyone else, I don’t have the answers…Just more questions.
I wonder, have we stopped to process? Do we need to grieve all that has been lost, changed, or the trauma that has been endured? In the eyes of children for whom small things can assume gargantuan size, have we really stopped to try to understand what they have endured?
New From Here, by Kelly Yang, felt like this to me. It felt like a window into the soul of a child trying to stay afloat as his family is changed by life’s hard choices in the face of COVID-19. Simultaneously, he must make sense of the chaos that surrounds him as his own windows open for the first time to a world deeply steeped in racist beliefs. A stable existence becomes unstable. What was secure, suddenly shaken, all while trying to simply exist as a child.
We cry for the double whammy of fear – fear of the virus itself and fear of racism, a pandemic just as terrifying.”
New From Home is based on Yang’s lived experience. Narrated by Knox, a biracial, fifth grader who learns that his difficulty focusing and impulsivity is due to ADHD. Leaving his father behind, Knox moves from Hong Kong to America with his mother, older brother, and younger sister in an effort to escape the newly spreading COVID-19 virus. His new life in America is met with novel struggles and successes. While, for the first time, Knox is a member of a classroom that values him for who he is, he also experiences anti-asian racism that became virulent in America during the pandemic. He and his siblings come together, using their ingenuity to stand up for what is right and bring their family back together, though the challenges that they, like so many, faced during the last two years seemed relentless.
I glance over at my brother, who looks around at all the people standing up against racism. We might not have gotten any toilet paper today. But we filled up on the knowledge that we were not all alone.”
Yang’s storytelling, set in the recent past, felt cathartic. She captured the chaos, uncertainty, and resolve of our children. So too, did she reflect the imperfect bravery of parents and teachers through Knox’s eyes as he watched the adults in his life navigate their new reality.New From Home is an important read for children, parents, and teachers. It reminds us that, though none of us have all of the answers, the right answer is always to stand up for what is right, and to stand beside those that you love.