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  • Writer's pictureStacie Haas

Pinching Myself over the Kirkus Star--Freedom For Me: A Chinese Yankee

I did a more formal blog post about my debut novel, Freedom for Me: A Chinese Yankee, earning the prestigious Kirkus Star, but it didn’t convey all the emotions associated with it. I was trying to be uber-professional, you know, like a football player in the end zone. Instead of doing the “gritty” (all you Bengals fans know what I’m talking about), I wanted to “act like I’d been there before.” But, heck, I don’t want to do that anymore.

You know why? Because I haven’t been here before! And, given that I have a demanding job and four amazing kids to raise with my husband, odds are that I won’t get back here again. So, even though my gritty is terrible, I’m going to go ahead and dance.

So, what is a Kirkus Star? Everyone who knows, well, knows. They get it because they know how big it is. In fact, when I first saw that I received the star, I immediately shared the news with my friends in the Society of Middle Grade Writers on Facebook because I knew they’d understand its significance without explanation. It’s as big as it gets in terms of professional book industry reviews. Even authors published by the big traditional publishers like Simon & Schuster covet the Kirkus Star.

Here are the stats, according to the Washington Post. About 10 percent of the 7,000 traditionally published books that Kirkus reviews get the star, and only two percent of the 3,000 independently published books get the star. Mine was one the latter, which makes it an even bigger deal. What’s more is that books that receive the Kirkus Star are eligible to win the lucrative $50,000 Kirkus Prize. While I have no illusions of winning, it’s amazing to think about Freedom for Me being among the best of the best under consideration.

You can read the full review here or read it copied below (I underlined my favorite parts). While you do, I’m going to keep dancing!

In a new edition of this novel for roughly ages 10 and up, a Chinese American boy enlists in the Union Army to fight against slavery but must also battle prejudice.

Young Thomas Beck is not really sure how old he was when his uncle saved his life by hiding him on an American merchant ship about to sail away from Canton harbor in China. The kindly captain, Joseph Beck, took the young stowaway home to Connecticut, where he and his wife named him Thomas and raised him as their own alongside his brother, Robert. Ten years later, Thomas is a normal, rough-and-tumble, freedom-loving American boy, with only his Asian facial features and the hairstyle known as a “braided queue” to signal his Chinese heritage. Thomas and his brother long to fight in the Civil War, though Robert scoffs, “There ain’t no such thing as a Chinese Yankee.” Ignoring their mother’s warning that their place is at home with her, both boys run away to enlist in the 14th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Thomas soon finds harsh truth in Robert’s warning that, “Folks don’t know what being Chinese means,” as he faces rejection and hostility from new comrades, including, heartbreakingly, his own brother. Unable to hide his difference, Tom embraces his Chinese identity with stubborn courage and an American belief in freedom and fairness as he is plunged into one bloody battle after another. Haas’ narrative brings the contradictions of that devastating conflict to life as the brothers encounter a world of complex moralities. Saved from a life of enslavement as a coolie in China, Tom feels a deep connection to the fight against slavery, but many of his fellow soldiers are as hostile to freed Blacks as their Southern counterparts. Alongside vivid descriptions of the chaos and intensity of 19th-century warfare, this stirring book explores the evolving class and racial attitudes of the time. An author’s note gives a brief biography of Joseph Pierce, the “real-life Chinese Yankee” on whom the book is based.

A moving depiction of courage and immigrant pride amid the horrors of war.


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