The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Book Review, Fiction

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei (cover)

Book Details

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
Christina Matula, illus. Yao Xiao. Toronto: Inkyard Press, HarperCollins, pb. 978 1 3354 2865 3, 2023, £16.99, 304pp.
Fiction, novel, 8-12 years

Much of what Christina Matula writes in her debut middle-grade novel is based very squarely on her own experience.

Matula is the child of immigrants, one Taiwanese and one Hungarian, and she grew up in Canada before spending fourteen adult years in Hong Kong. In her novel her heroine, twelve-year-old Holly-Mei Jones (Matula has created Holly-Mei’s father as white British), moves from unremarkable urban life in Canada to an upmarket city area in Hong Kong.

When Holly-Mei’s mother is promoted to a top job, her family find themselves in a very different lifestyle; they now live in some luxury, and Holly-Mei goes to a school whose students appear to have everything. Holly-Mei herself initially welcomes this new beginning, having fallen out with her Canadian best friend.

Whilst it is set firmly in Hong Kong, a very different life to that which the Jones family are used to, and we become engrossed in that city, Matula’s novel focuses even more closely on Holly-Mei’s experiences with the students in her new school. These primarily are universal rather than specific to her new life and will resonate with readers wherever they live – friendship, truthfulness, happiness, sadness. Initially, Holly-Mei is unhappy that Ah-ma, her wise Taiwanese grandmother, remains in Canada, but the wonders of twenty-first-century technology allow her to continue their communication and absorb the Taiwanese comfort and advice she offers.

The novel includes a short Mandarin and Cantonese glossary, pronunciation, and traditional characters. Some of Holly-Mei’s favourite recipes are also included! There is more to this middle-grade novel than readers might imagine, and not least is learning much more about Hong Kong than most of us know.

Holly-Mei is due to return imminently in a second novel of an anticipated three. They will undoubtedly be welcomed!


Review by Bridget Carrington