Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera (ARC Review)

Lupe Wong Won't Dance


Goodreads: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Series: None
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: September 8, 2020


Lupe Wong plans to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. Right now, however she needs to get all A’s in her classes in order to meet Fu Li Hernandez, a pitcher who is Mexinese/Chinacan just like her. Unfortunately, she was not expecting square dancing to be part of the PE curriculum. Lupe makes it her personal mission to get square dancing removed from gym class for good–but is this a fight worth having?

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Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is a humorous, yet sympathetic, look at the middle school experience. Lupe is part Chinese, part Mexican, and her dream is to become the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. Her uncle promises she can meet her favorite pitcher Fu Li Hernandez if she gets A’s in all her classes. Lupe hopes that meeting Fu Li will help her process her dad’s death, and the way in which he seemingly gave up on his own dreams of playing professional baseball in order to support his family. Unfortunately, one thing is standing in the way of her perfect report card: the square dancing unit required in the PE curriculum. So begins a story that anyone who has ever dreaded gym class will relate to.

Lupe Wong is an activist who has championed numerous school causes, such as eliminating the girls’ dress code or getting a bubble for “Mexinese or Chinacan” added to standardized tests. Many young readers will recognize her desire for social justice in themselves. Accordingly, Lupe hopes she can get square dancing banned as an archaic practice with outdated gender roles and music rooted in white supremacy–initially more because she does not want to dance rather than out of any real concern about what the lyrics of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” actually mean. Her research, however, can teach readers how traditions often have unexpected roots, as well as the ways in which individuals and communities have tried to reclaim or transform some traditions to make them more relevant and inclusive.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance also addresses racism, gender roles, and bullying. A personal and immediate struggle for Lupe occurs in the way the other kids belittle each other throughout the square dancing unit. Girls having to dance with boys is bad enough, but the experience only becomes worse as the girls begin to mock Lupe, sometimes because of her ethnicity, sometimes because she plays a boys’ sport, and sometimes apparently just because they can. The book realistically depicts how harmful these interactions can be, and how even well-meaning teachers can fail to spot bullying or fail to take action against it due to a lack of evidence. Even though Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is a humorous book told through Lupe’s high-spirited narrative voice, it does not shy away from addressing serious topics relevant to middle grade readers.

Lupe herself is a fascinating choice of protagonist because, in many ways, Lupe is not particularly likable. She is obsessed with being the best and pursuing her dreams, so much so that she inadvertently begins using her friends. When her best friend Andy accuses Lupe of only caring for herself, readers can understand why. Lupe is, after all, the girl who assumes Andy should sabotage her own grades in order to lift Lupe’s. However, Lupe is also a reflective character, one who is able to look at herself critically and honestly, and try to grow. Readers will cheer her on as she continues to try to be the best version of herself–even if that means not always making baseball her number one priority.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance will appeal to middle grade readers with its spirited protagonist, its humorous look at middle school (some potty humor included!), and its emphasis on social justice. Like many recent reads, it also celebrates diversity and inclusion, and will be a welcome addition to school and library shelves.

3 Stars

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