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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Some U.S. Civil War history is covered. Particular names, battles, and elements of the war are explored as a high school reenacts the civil war each year. There's also information about Chinese Americans who fought in the civil war. Discussions happen about the history of Confederate statues and why, as many were erected during and after the Civil War.
There are many lessons of tolerance and progress amid a fair amount of racism and tension. Evan and his family endure a lot after moving to their new community, and the positive messages of compassion, dignity, and forgiveness teach different ways of dealing with hate, conflict, and ignorance.
Positive Role Models
Evan Pao is nice, smart, brave, and an average Asian American who finds himself suddenly living in an incredibly White environment (no other Asians at his school, neighborhood, etc.). Despite this, Evan, his sister, and his mother all act honorably, peacefully, and do not overreact to racist incidents against them, even a hate crime.
The main characters are Chinese American. All other characters are White.
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Violence & Scariness
Even though there's a palpable feeling of tension and danger during some scenes, there is little actual physical violence. Most of the violence comes in the form of racist comments, beliefs, and jokes. A young man shoots at the house of an Asian American family, breaking a window and terrifying their dog. A boy tries to unfairly tackle, unsuccessfully, a Chinese American boy. A Chinese American family experiences poor treatment by police.
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Products & Purchases
References to Star Wars, the Marvel Universe and movies, Disney World, The Hunger Games, Batman, The Wizard of Oz, Mercedes Benz cars, Google, Jolly Ranchers candy, Altoids mints, Skittles candy, and Fig Newtons.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Secret Battle of Evan Pao is a middle grade novel about a Chinese American family who move from California to a new town in Virginia. Twelve-year-old seventh-grader Evan Pao begins at his new school, Battlefield Elementary, which has no other Asian kids or people of color, and his teen sister starts at the high school. Battlefield cherishes the Civil War, and each year they "reenact the war," with students dressing up as Confederate and Union soldiers. Evan faces racism, racist teachers, police, and neighborhood families. Other than a racist kid shooting at Evan's house that breaks a window (bullet lodging into a wall) and terrifies their dog, there's no physical violence. But there are a fair amount of racist comments, jokes, and situations (like police waving off the shooting incident as nothing and even yelling at Evan's mom when she tries to say something in Chinese).
Is It Any Good?
This positive and powerful middle grade novel about a Chinese American family facing racism in their new town is a fast read, quickly paced with a palpable sense of tension and danger. Coming from diverse California, Virginia is a culture shock for Evan's family, and the situation demands that they be incredibly careful not to anger their neighbors, school teachers, and police. There's a strong feeling of danger throughout The Secret Battle of Evan Pao, but the central piece of violence produces no tragic consequences.
Given the genre and target audience, it's understandable that the primary acts of racism that Evan's family face do not lead to worse tragedy. But it's hard not to imagine much worse befalling Evan and his family if this novel wasn't for middle grade readers. Still, it's a strong and important book that offers new ways of handling, thinking about, and reacting to racism.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
Books About Racism and Social Justice
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate