Inspired by her family’s own experiences throughout the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly Yang’s middle-grade novel, New from Here, is narrated through the eyes of the Wei-Evans family’s youngest son, Knox. Living in Hong Kong, 10-year-old Knox’s life is suddenly turned upside down with the first outbreak of COVID-19. In an effort to protect themselves, Knox’s parents decide that he, his older brother Bowen, his younger sister Lea, and his mom will temporarily move to California to further distance themselves from the virus while his dad stays behind in Hong Kong to continue working.
Unfortunately, after arriving in California, Knox and his family soon realize they have not only failed to escape the threat of COVID-19, but they must also now confront the difficulties of racism, financial instability, family separation and mental health challenges. From homesickness, adapting to new schools, navigating having undiagnosed ADHD, dealing with unemployment, and keeping themselves safe in the midst of two dangerous pandemics involving a virus and racism towards Asians, New from Here addresses the hardship many families endured during 2020 and to this day.
I found that reading from Knox’s point of view provided a unique perspective into how children processed the pandemic and the challenges that came with it. It also gave important insight to how perceptive children truly are to sensitive issues such as mental health and racism that many often assume are too complicated for them to understand.
At moments, I found it surreal reading about events that happened in the beginning of the pandemic, such as toilet paper shortages, hoarding of masks by resellers, and the closure of many businesses. Yang comprehensively integrates these experiences and events into the story, making it both an enjoyable and compelling read for middle grade readers and even college students such as myself.
After finishing New from Here I was left revisiting my family’s own experiences during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The recurring themes of adversity, self-acceptance and family left a deep impression and reminder of the unprecedented events we have lived through just these past couple of years and the important relationships and parts of ourselves we should take care of to keep persevering during times of hardship.