Mya's Strategy to Save the World by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, 208 pp, RL 4
Mya's Strategy to Save the World
Review Copy from Penguin Random House
It is rare, for me, to read a middle grade novel where the main character educates herself on and is passionate about global social justice. Reading Mya's Strategy to Save the World, I was often reminded of Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You!, a non-fiction part DIY, part memoir by a real-life-kid who tackled a social justice issue. Dias's book is a fantastic call to action filled with genuinely helpful ideas on how to educate and act. Dias and her book, in part, are so successful because her mother is a social activist with a foundational knowledge that she shared with her daughter, who then passed it on to readers. What I appreciate about Kyi's book is the fact that Mya is a self-starter who is, for the most part, educating herself while also trying to educate others. And, she's a twelve-year-old girl in seventh grade who is succumbs to the unavoidable challenges of girls her age, from her first period to her potential first kiss.
Mya herself, the daughter of an Asian, Buddhist mother and a white, Christian father, is such a great character and a superb narrator. She wants to work for the United Nations when she grows up and frequently uses her allotted 30 minutes of daily screen time to research the organization and the challenges they confront. At the start of the novel she is singleminded about her purpose, practicing her negotiation skills at home and at school. After starting her narration by telling readers that her little sister, Nanda, picks her nose and wipes it on her sheets before bed, Mya goes on to explain a concept she learned from her mother, who has traveled to her birthplace, Myanmar, to care for her ailing mother. The "poop sandwich" is a way to make a bad thing better by sandwiching it between two good things. Despite her knowledge of the persecution and suffering of the Rohingya people, the use of child labor to mine cobalt (used in smartphone batteries) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and women like Golrokh Ebrahimi, an Iranian woman who was imprisoned for an unpublished story she wrote criticizing the practice of stoning, Mya is also a 12-year-old girl.
Kyi balances Mya's interests and drive with unavoidable, real life challenges like getting your period and not wanting to talk to your dad about it, making choices between family responsibilities and personal needs and not always making the best decision and boys. Mya bonded with her best friend, Cleo, over a cross-talking discussion of U Win Tin, a newspaper editor from Myanmar (Mya informs readers that the military coup of 1989 resulted in the change from Myanmar to Burma) imprisoned (for nineteen years in a dog kennel) for advocating for a democracy where everyone was allowed to vote, and Malala Yousafzai and her fight for girls to be allowed to go to school. After that, Kids for Social Justice was born. But, when Cleo gets a smartphone, texting and all the other time and mind-sucks that are possible when you have a tiny computer in your hand (specifically racing unicorns and hatching dragon eggs) take a toll on their friendship and the KSJ. Despite this, Mya decides that the time is right to petition her parents for a smartphone of her own and she begins to strategize on how to change their minds.
Kyi divides the novel into five parts representing the weeks her mother has been gone. After nine weeks without her mom, work as a babysitter to earn money to help buy her phone, unwanted cooking lessons from her Aunt Winnie (Ki includes several delicious recipes throughout the book), a research project on ways humans communicate and an ill-timed run to the store for feminine hygiene products, Mya's life is more about immediate, everyday, first world challenges than the global injustices she hopes to eradicate someday. And that feels right. And reads right. I hope that Mya's Strategy to Save the World makes it into the hands of many, many readers - from those who have a hard time looking away from the app that lets them race unicorns to those who are inspired to know the world around them.