Making Friends with Billy Wong
by Augusta Scattergood
Paris Junction, Arkansas is not the place Azalea Morgan wants to spend her summer. As she says, “Lordy, you could roll a bowling ball down Main Street today and nobody would notice.”
Her mom has dropped her off at her Grandma Clark’s house, who is wheelchair bound after hurting her foot. Azalea will spend the summer helping Grandma Clark in the garden and around the house, with two other garden helpers that are also Azalea’s age, Willis DeLoach and Melinda Bowman, a trouble-maker and a “prisspot,” respectively. And then there is Billy Wong. When Grandma Clark tells Azalea to befriend Billy Wong, whose family owns Lucky Foods grocery story, Azalea isn’t sure how they’ll be friends—maybe he won’t even understand English! Azalea learns a lot of things about Billy, the first that he is first-generation Chinese American, and because he is Chinese, he wasn’t allowed to go to the white schools in Shallowater, Mississippi, so he moved to live with his uncle in Paris Junction. Billy wants to be a reporter for the Tiger Times, the school he will attend in the fall. When Lucky Foods grocery is vandalized with rotten eggs, it is the scene of a hate-crime, and he starts to investigate with the help of Azalea.
Author Augusta Scattergood details are rich, and the language is humorous and evokes a time and era that is long-gone, but not forgotten. Scattergood drew on her own experience growing up in the Mississippi Delta where there were Chinese immigrants and their families who had businesses similar to the Lucky Foods grocery store found in the story. Making Friends with Billy Wong tells both sides of the story. Azalea’s side of the story is told in funny and determined prose, much like Azalea’s character herself. Interspersed are chapters that are told from Billy’s perspective in verse. These verse chapters are nuanced and reveal Billy’s inner thoughts about the prejudice in the town around him.
An example of one of Billy’s poems:
Notes for Tiger Times Report
Banana split: 20 ¢
Ice cream and cookie: 10 ¢
Superman comic: 10 ¢
Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter, is my hero.
If you read comics without buying,
the waitress will get you.
Chinese students not to sit at the counter too long.
Especially with a white girl.
Even if she’s your friend.
Billy Wong, Reporting the Facts
Read the interview with Augusta Scattergood on the Twenty by Jenny Blog!