Kyle Lucia Wu has written one of the best books of 2021. Win Me Something, out now via Tin House, is an emotional and powerful book about finding your identity when you never felt there was an identity to find. Wu’s debut follows a biracial girl who never felt welcomed by classmates of either race.
It’s a beautifully written coming-of-age story that quietly packs a punch. Win Me Something is nuanced, informative, moving, and devastating. it does everything you want from a novel and more.
Debutiful had Wu answer the recurring A Life of Books questionnaire to let readers get to know her better.
Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?
As a child, I loved the Sweet Valley High series about twin sisters in a California suburb. I think I was drawn to it because my mom is an identical twin and she looked the way they were described in the series: all-American, blue-eyed, long blonde hair. Because I felt so alone where I grew up, having a twin felt like the greatest gift–– you wouldn’t stick out as the only one, if there were literally two of you. Though representations of twins, like Sweet Valley or Mary Kate and Ashley, often had opposite personalities–– one responsible and one reckless, or one tomboy and one feminine–– and I could never choose a side, because I always wanted to be both.
As an adolescent, it was The Torn Skirt by Rebecca Godfrey, which follows a pretty unparented girl who meets this mysterious, alluring runaway while cutting class, and chases her around exploring the seediest parts of their neighborhood. It’s kind of YA, but pretty dark, and as a teen I dreamed of adventure and flight like this, of expeditions to find other misfits.
Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?
I would just want my child to read and to enjoy reading. I didn’t read sophisticated books as a child, but I loved to read and always viewed it as fun, which has to be part of why I still do. It makes me sad when people don’t think of reading as fun, I can’t imagine it! But in the same vein, I never read any characters like me until my mid-twenties, and I absorbed so many things I had to wring out of myself in later years because of it. I want children to be able to see different shapes of narratives, characters, and lives reflected in the stories they pick up.
Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?
So I wasn’t a great student in high school. What comes to mind is Shakespeare; my senior year I was supposed to take AP English but I didn’t do any of the summer reading, so my school made me switch into the only class available, which was Shakespeare. That class was first period and because I was often late, my teacher would make me read the lengthiest monologues out loud as a sort of punishment. It made me loathe Shakespeare! But as an adult I realized how much Shakespeare has contributed to language and stories.
What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?
I don’t fault myself for anything I genuinely loved in my teens, like The Torn Skirt, or Please Kill Me, the oral history of the punk movement that I loved. But there were certainly books I more pretended to like than actually liked, like On the Road or Ham on Rye. I’m so glad to be past that stage of pretending!
Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?
Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart was really meaningful and exciting to me; I’d never seen a story of Chinese American girlhood that was so grotesque and sincere and lovingly depicted. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You was pitch-perfect in describing the type of loneliness I wanted to capture. The way Garth Greenwell used a potent rush of a flashback in What Belongs To You really energized me as well.
While editing, I came across the Patricia Smith poem “When the Burning Begins,” and the way she revisited a happy and ordinary memory of her father, while accessing her pain and grief over her loss of him, was so powerful and moving to me. It helped me think about the juxtaposition of past joy to present sorrow.
What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I’m always so blown away by it being her debut.
What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?
I’m currently reading, and very enamored with, Alex McElroy’s The Atmospherians.
And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.
Crowds, coats, anti-apologies.