Welcome to Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, where the blades are sharp and the competition is fierce.
Peasprout Chen dreams of becoming a legend of wu liu, the deadly and beautiful art of martial arts figure skating.
As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking.
Tensions rise when the dazzling pearl buildings of the Academy are vandalized and outsider Peasprout is blamed for the attacks by her rivals ... and even some friends.
Now, she must uncover the true vandal to ensure peace between Shin and Pearl – all while becoming a champion.
Kung Fu and ice skating come together in the art of wu liu at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. Chen Peasprout is a champion of wu liu from her home country of Shin, sent as a cultural exchange to the city of Pearl (a rough analogue of Taiwan to Shin's China). Along with her brother Cricket, they are desperate to prove their place at the academy, but struggle to do so while the Academy itself seems to be under attack, and them being blamed.
This is great. Peasprout is incredibly driven and competitive, but she's also a 14-year-old girl who makes plenty of mistakes. She's also in a school that has teachers that are similar caricatures of indifference and authority as the Hogwarts teachers from Harry Potter.
There are some fantastic set pieces around the wu liu challenges involving Peasprout and her friends and rivals. The relationships she develops with twins Doi and Hisashi are fascinating and should be interesting in the next book.
I will say this is darker in places than I would have expected for a middle grade or young young-adult book.
I initially thought of this book as "kung fu Harry Potter on ice," and I meant it as a high compliment. But ultimately that description, while accurate, does it a disservice. Peasprout Chen does in one volume what took Harry Potter several: it starts off light and funny and ends up deep and profound. It belongs in company not just with Harry Potter, but with classics like A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and A Wizard of Earthsea. It is the best book, for any age, I have read all year.
Peasprout Chen opens with a simple premise: as the first student from the land of Shin to attend the top wu liu (ice skating kung fu) academy in the land of Pearl, Peasprout must win a competition to bring honor to her homeland and become a wu liu legend. But it complicates rapidly and drastically as relations between Shin and Pearl deteriorate, and Peasprout and her little brother Cricket are caught in the middle. Along the way a mystery unfurls, a rivalry blossoms, a crush develops, and Peasprout must reckon with the remarkable Doi and Hisashi Niu, who are so much more than the friend and rival they seem. The writing sparkles, the world building sings, the skate sequences and challenges are breathtaking, and there are memorable scenes scattered through the book like confetti. But in the end, it's the love---for place, for family, for art, for self, for the world, and for others---embodied in the characters, the story structure, and the prose itself that makes this book stand so far above average. You, and your kids, will not regret a minute spent reading it.
I am, not without some reason, proud of my writing, my world building, my characters, and the truths of the human heart I put into my books. This book humbled me. You should read it.
PLEASE please read this middle grade wuxia novel about fantasy martial ice skating; I’m losing my mind about it !
For folks who haven’t read this book yet:
The worldbuilding is absolutely top notch—especially the intricately imaginative fantasy architecture, which the characters physically interact with in such cool ways. The history and culture of the Asian-analogue nations are immersively crafted. The techniques (and physics!) of the sport of wu liu are, like the school’s competitive academic structure, complex enough to be interesting but never difficult to follow. And the prose is quite elevated for middle grade because its formality and turns of phrase emulate those of imperial China, and, trust me on this, it’s delightful.
The plot is an emotional rollercoaster, managing to be fully uplifting while also kind of heart-rending (see spoiler section below). And I loved the characters. Peasprout is allowed to be a viciously ambitious girl from the get go, which is so enormously fulfilling to read. She’s got a sweet little brother who’s a chronically ill creative genius. Another main character is a shining example of my favorite character archetype ever, Angry Teen Girl. And there’s significant amounts of queer representation, which is huge for middle grade! Also, the audiobook read by Nancy Wu is outstanding (and the theme sung by Idina Menzel (??) is so good and still stuck in my head).
I beseech you to give Chen Peasprout a chance to flying kick her way into your heart.
Finally, huge spoiler time:
This book was SO fantastic, but the side helping of bisexual grief it served is eating me alive. You mean to tell me straight people can’t just make the logical choice to be attracted to one (1) person of the same gender who they’re ALREADY IN LOVE WITH???? It’s just. I just find that so unreasonable and personally inconvenient, by which I mean utterly devastating.
But if you like the idea of “twelfth night but make it exactly 50% gayer,” you will enjoy this.
Darker and more adult in its themes than I expected, this book was still fun and exciting during Peasprout Chen’s first year at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. Peasprout encounters bullies, interrogations and threats of espionage after she and her brother arrive in Pearl as part of an exchange of students between Shin and Pearl. I thought this would be a sports and hijinks-filled story at a competitive school. There was definitely a lot of sport, or increasingly difficult wu liu competitions through the year, with Peasprout and two other girls at the top of their classes. Instead of student-led hijinks, there is sabotage of the facilities and increasingly dangerous lies floating through the school, with Peasprout coming under much suspicion. I liked this story a lot. Peasprout Chen has a direct approach to adversity, and well, pretty much everything, which sometimes was funny, other times not so much, as she she makes many mistakes during her first term at this wu liu school. She also manages to figure outplots while greatly improving at the many martial and elegant skate forms. And the best part of the story, she also learns to be more mindful of her classmates and their opinions. A fun story, with plenty of jealousy- and politically-motivated action as Peasprout deals with myriad challenges in Pearl, and interesting and amusing enough to convince me to check out book two.
This fantasy world features a uniquely imagined blend of figure skating and martial arts. Right there, I was fairly certain that my youngest would love this audiobook, and I was right (he listened to the whole thing in like a day and a half). The worldbuilding in this book is surprisingly complex for a middle grade, which I actually appreciated, and I was amazed at how well I was able to picture the city of Pearl, a city designed specifically for ice skating (and constructed out of a mysterious substance, which is part of the central mystery of the book). Peasprout feels completely out of her element in Pearl, and the girls at her new school seem intent on making her miserable–and accusing her of being a spy for the city of Shin. Now, I’ll confess that Peasprout can be pretty unlikable for a lot of the book–she’s so intent on protecting her little brother that she smothers him, she’s often ridiculously conceited and she pretty much always thinks the worst of everyone. But at fourteen, you have to give her a bit of a pass–she’s just a kid, and she makes a whole lot of mistakes, but she learns some important lessons by the end of the book.
The book’s ending takes a pretty shocking turn that I didn’t see coming at all and it sent the characters in a new direction I’m very interested in seeing explored. Nancy Wu’s narration is excellent as well. I will be picking up the second audiobook in the series very soon!
Rarely do I find a children's book I love as much as I do Peasprout Chen.
From the story, which is one of the most original I've ever read, to the main character who is so spirited and sassy I was in awe of her muchness and fell right in love with her! To the conflicts and agency and friendships and hateships, which were constant and always exciting, to the twist near the end that left my jaw hanging open like, "OMG! I did not see that coming!" Not to mention the quirky sayings, stellar world building, puzzles, intelligence, and underlying universal truths hidden throughout (which is my secret most favorite thing ever in children's books).
In short, this is one of my favorite middle grades of all-time. And that is saying something, because I am so persnickety. I seriously couldn't put it down and could not recommend this book more.
I can't say enough great things about this book. The characters are wonderfully strong, insecure, funny, thoughtful, touching and so huggable. The world is so beautifully imagined and drawn, I want to live there. And the story is packed with action, laughs and tears.
I read this book as part of an ARC tour (with no expectation of a review) and can't wait to get the hardcover when it comes out in April. It's a gorgeous book that I know I'll read again, and really hope this is just the start of a series.
The final third of this book is excellent -- the revelations are great and well-handed, the ending is satisfying and sweet without being saccharine, it sets up the next book nicely, and Peasprout gets a huge amount of character development. The final third is enough to make me want to read the next book in the series.
Besides that, the romance was, at first, too fast for me and a little silly (and seemed to old for what felt like a middle grade book), but I loved the way it developed and what it meant at the end of the book. I'm really interested to see where the second book takes it!
The first two thirds, though, are why this book only gets a 3.5. Peasprout is only able to get so much character development because she is an extremely unlikeable character for most of the book. Pigheaded, stubborn, braggadocious, insensitive. She's also incredibly determined, which drives most of the book and gets her into trouble, but it's not exactly an endearing quality when it's so ruthless, even when directed towards her own sibling.
The only part that made it tolerable was the fact that Lien's writing is strong, so I knew it was done on purpose. Little knowing winks to the audience, for instance, when Peasprout calls herself modest were a fantastic addition to make me relax.
I also struggled to imagine the skating moves, especially at first. There's no real guidance for how any of this looks, and given how complicated some of them are meant to be...I wanted some indication of that through description. I came up with my own headcanon, eventually, for how different moves were performed, but I was so excited by the figure skating that I wanted it on the page!
But I did really enjoy the world being built here, the mythology and history and structures. I also loved the way the reader is introduced to it all through Peasprout. And like I said, the ending is most excellent. It all comes together nicely, with clues throughout the book meaning that none of it is a surprise but it is unexpected! Good stuff.
Okay, here's the review that doubtlessly will piss people off this week: instead of an "OMG, this is the best book ever, and I LOVE Peasprout!" this book is going on my various "overrated" shelves.
Since this has a skating element, let's just say thatIf this were a skating performance, I'd give it perhaps a 9 for originality, but 3 for technical execution. Like a hockey player getting tripped by an adversary, I found myself getting tangled in the plot, which whirls like a skater doing an axel and annoyed by Peasprout, the heroine. Plus I found the juxtaposition of stilted language meant to evoke Chinese phrases combined with the occasional argot of 2018 America jarring. I find it especially annoying from an Asian writer who probably doesn't want his book to sound as if the dialogue was ripped off from an old Charlie Chan movie!
I know people want to love this--and the concept IS great--and I know they're especially wanting to love it because of a teeny tiny twist featuring a LGBTQ character. But this ISN'T the focus of the plot, and the telling just doesn't really justify the raves. It's so uneven that I almost didn't finish this book, and the plot is full of holes and confusion.
And the fact that it doubtlessly is going to spawn at least 1 sequel irritates me.
Sadly, I didn't really like this. I wanted to. Figure Skating Martial Arts! Sounds cool, but I slugged through it. First, I never really understood what the point of wu liu. It seemed to be more than art, but it doesn't make logical sense to actually be a battle form. Second, I didn't like Peasprout. She jumped to conclusions too quickly, judged others and wasn't kind to her brother. She does learn and grow, but I didn't really like her as the main character.
2020 challenge: a book with more than 20 letters in its title
Chen Peasprout and her brother, Chen Cricket, are sent as emissaries from the Empress Dowager of Shin to the wu lui school in Pearl. Peasprout is the best skater in all of Shin, she's a minor celebrity there, as is her brother. She has come to prove herself and will not except anything less than first place in rankings at the end of the year. She is up against some tough competition in the form of Doi, a princess, and Suki, a spoiled brat. Furthermore, the relationship between Shin and Pearl seems to be diving as the Empress has evidently kidnapped two Pearlian ambassadors. Someone is sabotaging the structures of Pearl (made of a secret compound the Empress Dowager desires) and rumors are starting to say that Peasprout and Cricket are the saboteurs. Peasprout is even more determined to get first place and is pressuring Cricket to do better too.
At last the suffering is at an end! I must confess, I seriously debated abandoning this halfway through and even tried reading the last chapter to see if I could figure out what happens but that strategy failed. So I kept plowing through, hoping that Peasprout would reform and redeem herself but it was way too little too late. I really wanted to love this book. Teaching at an international school in Asia with mostly students of Asian heritage I'm always on the lookout for new books featuring Asian characters and settings. This looked like it was going to be awesome for our students. And I did like the setting. But there's this hiccup that goes by Peasprout. I absolutely positively couldn't stand her. She was conceited, overly prideful, narrow-minded, egotistical, viewed all others only as people to beat (seriously, she only learns the names of 4 of her classmates!), absolutely refused to listen to any advice from anyone, the WORST kind of visitor to a foreign place (the bad tourist attitude 'my culture's ways are right, your ways are wrong, and I will look down on you and openly berate you for how you do things instead of possibly learning something') and I just couldn't stand her. I've never hoped for a main character to fail in her goals so bad before. I think the best thing that could have happened to her was a broken leg early on so she'd have to seriously rethink her purpose in life. You can imagine it was hard for me to keep reading to see if she succeeded. The only thing I wanted to figure out was who was really sabotaging the city, and I kept holding out hope for some major breakthrough that would cause Peasprout to reform. Oh, she eventually (just a few chapters from the end) gets a minor catastrophe. And she starts acting a little teeny bit less conceited but I felt like she still had way, way, WAY more to learn before I could find her a believably humbled and more pleasant character. If you can stand that kind of character and are looking for a unique Asian setting featuring skating and kung fu/tai chi, then by all means give it a try.
Notes on content: No language issues. It is revealed another girl student has a crush on Peasprout, but no kissing or anything. There is a scene where a skater has a wardrobe malfunction during a skating competition. Some moves that could seriously injure are talked about and some of the competitions involve injuries, but nothing super serious happens.
As soon as I heard the phrase "martial art figure skating" a few months ago, I knew that I absolutely had to get my hands on this book, and it did not disappoint! This charming and compelling debut is not quite like anything I've ever read. Part mystery, part hero origin story, part totally rocking adventure, PEASPROUT CHEN is as engaging as it is heart-pounding. While you've got Olympic figure skating on your mind, definitely add this book to your TBR list. I promise that Peasprout and her skates are ones you'll want to to watch out for!
this book was .... a lot. firstly, there was so much discrimination and racism in the book, yet none of it was confronted and it felt normalized to me. i hated that nobody there said anything, and how isolated and alone Peasprout and Cricket seemed.
as much as the world building and wu liu was beautifully written, some parts of the plot were confusing.
for example: the dialogue didn't flow consistently and some of the lines said in the book feel very alien and robotic to me. there was also a lot of references towards Chinese culture, which i, a chinese reader, understood, but i can easily vision a non-Asian reader reading this and being baffled by the vocab.
however! there was an immensely beautiful scene where lines from many people come together, and that immediately added a star to my review.
i'm not gonna talk about the wu liu in this review, since many others mention it. the book was filled with so many threads and fragments of stories, but sadly, none of them were explained or woven together in a cohesive manner. like , but i guess that will be explained in the sequels.
however, what ticked me off so much about this book was THAT EVERYONE SUCKED!! the chairman is horrid, all the senseis are stuck-up, conceited, or foolish except maybe the wu liu sensei, suki and her gang were AWFUL and disgusting, empress dowager is disgusting, peasprout's parents are absent from her and cricket's life, EVEN PEASPROUT WAS UNLIKEABLE! even though she faced discrimination and racism, i did not like her attitude at some parts and i hated her god awful attitude towards Cricket (which she did make up for in the end, partially). i'd say the only characters i like were Cricket and Doi, which really disappointed me because i wanted to like a lot of these characters. and it really hurt me that Doi and Peasprout basically get no recognition for their talent and dedication. that's what ruined a lot of the book for me, because there's no point in making history if there was no one to see it.
i want to say that was the worst part, but it doesn't stop there. it really angers me how SUKI GOT NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL! AND NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE ABOUT WHAT SHE AND HER GANG DID. it seems like Suki was really a device to insert conflict into the story, and i pretty much forgot about her during the last fourth of the book. suki had absolutely NO character development, and she actually got her way in the ending, which is stupid because she deserves far worse.
this leads me ro the lgbtq part of the story. i was super excited at the mention of lgbtq in this book because there is little lgbt rep in chinese media, but i think the story was too disappointing for me to enjoy it fully. we have a sapphic main character, and mlm side characters. even though it hurt my gay heart to not have i know i've mentioned this before, but:
okay, finally. the ending. the final thing is that Peasprout and Doi never really get comforted or praised. what they did wasn't really known and that lack of recognition really hurt me as a reader. plus, the ending was basically heartbreaking to read since Doi's future is gonna be ruined.
Full disclosure: Henry is a friend, and I might be biased. Except I'm not because this book is awesome. I've never read an MG novel quite like this one before. Pearl is a fascinating, wholly original city, and I'm really impressed by how this story moves. Come for the girl power and the awesome blend of martial arts and figure skating; stay for the surprisingly nuanced politics and the set-up for what looks to be an even more fascinating Book 2.
Series: This is the first book in a planned series
What this book is about:
Peasprout and her brother Cricket are from the country of Shin. They are attending the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword as part of a cultural exchange. They practice wu liu, a combination of martial arts and skating and Peasprout intends to be first in her class at the Academy. But the countries of Shin and Pearl do not trust each other and when the academy is vandalized, classmates of Peasprout are quick to point the finger at her. She is unsure of her allies but she does know that she needs to figure out who is causing the damage or she may be heading home sooner than expected.
Why I love this book:
I have to say that the author has created quite a world in Pearl. The imagination and creativity that allows citizens to skate throughout the city is impressive. There is an entire folklore created for the development of wu liu as well as the history of the region. There are elements of meditation and architecture intertwined and I appreciated the complex world that was constructed. I liked Peasprout from the beginning despite the fact that she started as a bit of a know it all. Her evolution as she gained knowledge throughout the story transformed her into a caring and thoughtful character who was able to show compassion to those who cared for her. Lots of action kept this story going. There is a surprise at the end that I didn’t see coming, which is always fun. The competitions were full of fighting, speed, and acrobatics so there is never a dull moment.
Who this book is for:
Great for kids who like action and the creation of new worlds. It actually made me think of Super Hero High, although this book is much richer in its story content.
Kung Fu and skating … who would have thought? And the cover is fabulous!
This book was utterly entrancing and unique. The setting was unlike anything I've ever read about or seen before. Although it was overwhelming at first to be exposed to an completely unfamiliar landscape, it was worth pushing through because every detail was so well conceived and woven into the story that each new revelation was a delight as it unfolded alongside Peasprout's journey.
I loved every twist and turn of the plot as Peasprout stubbornly followed her dream of becoming a champion. And it did get twisty at the end! While the book doesn't shy away from difficult situations, I thought they were handled gracefully with a perfect balance of humor, heart, and action throughout. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of this book and I can't wait for it to be available so it's out in the world with young readers who will adore it.
What a fun, beautiful, and original book. Henry Lien's PEASPROUT CHEN transported me to Pearl, where the future practitioners of wu liu train. The world-building in this book is breathtaking from every angle. I won't write much for fear of spoilers, but I loved this book, it's brave, yet flawed, hero, and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing Peasprout's journey in a world where so much was not as it seemed.
Wow. Just wow. This book was one of my biggest surprises this year. Full review to come, but let's just say that if you're looking for a fun MG adventure, look no further than this bizarre mashup that I can only describe as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Harry Potter... on ice.
This is one of the hardest books to review. At any given time I could give it between a 2 star to 4 star review. It really boils down to the experience with the story and the writing style.
The Good: This is the most creative world that I have ever seen. Every surface in the country of Pearl is covered in an amazing material simply known as pearl. Forget shoes/cars; people use skates to get everywhere because pearl is so slippery. It's basically ice, but isn't cold, and can naturally heal itself to a certain extent. This means there's no need for a crew to go around cleaning up every surface throughout the day like in the real world for an ice skating rink.
The Wu Liu (kung fu) used on the pearl is really cool. Henry Lien did an excellent job describing what each move looked like to the point that I felt like I was imagining each scene accurately. These kids are badass.
The twist in the plot was good. The story is essentially a "Who Done it?" but the culprit's plot, motivations, and scheme were so down to earth. I've seen people upset that this person was LGBTQ. I had no problem with it. If we lived in a world where all books made an LGBTQ character as "evil", then I would have a different take, but we don't.
The Off-Putting: This is where things get dicey. Peasprout (great name btw) is overconfident in her abilities. She is from Shen and has been sent from the Empress with her brother to Pearl to be the best at their Wu Liu school. It's hard to read from someone's point of view who sees themselves so high up. Peasprout never learns anyone's name. She addresses them depending on their features or personality. It's hard to put up with her, but about half way through the book I realized something. This isn't actually Peasprout's personality. She is representing how ALL people from Shen look down on the people of Pearl. And I mean this is even how people are in the REAL Shen. People in the real Shen have no respect for the people in the real Pearl. (generalizing obviously). Peasprout does start to see things from a Pearlian's point of view with the help of a couple of friends and a shared legend between the two countries.
The names of the skating moves. They were long and boring and don't always seem to match what the skaters are doing. You hear moves with names like these in old Kung Fu movies, though so what can I say? I did bug me how all the main characters would bust out the moves effortlessly. They already learned everything in their training before entering the school so it felt like an endless deus ex machina.
Peasprout's brother. He was forgettable. I don't even know why he had to be in the story.
So there you have it. I had to trudge through it, but it had a lot of redeemable qualities. I would keep my eye out for the sequel to see how Peasprout changes because I'm sure she has a lot of growth coming her way.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Peasprout Chen and her younger brother Cricket live in the land of Shin, where wu liu, the beautiful and deadly art of martial skating, was invented. Peasprout, who is fourteen and a prodigy at wu liu, and as such, she and Cricket have been selected by the Dowager Empress herself to study at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword in a goodwill exchange - a mission that carries much responsibility, for the independant city-state of Pearl has taken preeminence in the great martial art and Peasprout is here in Pearl not just to learn all the secrets of wu liu but to do better than all the Pearlian students and restore the honour of Shin.
This is the premise behind Henry Lien’s delightful Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, a fantasy for children with the spirit of anime and the feel of one of those classic children’s books that grows organically from a special story invented to tell a beloved child to a tale that enchants children everywhere. It’s set up as a traditional boarding school novel, with the protagonist as outsider forced into competition with the school bully and persecuted by the bully’s clique, with stern teachers who never understand the difficulties facing the protagonist, and unexpected allies.
Yet underneath this surface lie some dark secrets that could spell serious danger for Peasprout and Cricket, who are both innocent of the political machinations that lie behind this ‘goodwill exchange’ but may nonetheless suffer the consequences of intrigues they had no part in.
I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel, Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, because she’s a character that it’s hard not to love, and I know I want to see more of her.
Great fun! This was a bit of a departure from what I've been reading lately, and unlike any middle grade/YA I have read before. I absolutely love this world that the author, Henry Lien, created. The setting is unique, especially to someone more used to reading about western cultures, and brought me back to my past love of manga. He's created a believable world and iceskating/martial arts system in such a remarkable way. I'm a visual person, and could imagine the fantastical figure skating battles and Pearl-formed buildings really well from the text. I also loved all of the descriptions of food. The story is filled with eccentric characters, boarding school drama, and epic teen battles but also feels so relatable. The interactions between Peasprout and her brother Cricket often made me teary-eyed. I'm pumped for the second book, especially after that ending!!
Let's be honest, this book had me at "kung fu figure skating". The action sequences are really well done and exciting and this is coming from someone who doesn't actually like such things that much.
I did find the dialogue a bit clunky at first (I got a bit sick of "ten thousand years of stomach gas!" in the first few chapters), but I got used to it and by the end the excitement and mystery were enough to make me forget about that.
Initially I found Peasprout's overconfidence grating but on further consideration that was actually really refreshing to see in a middle grade heroine. And she got to learn and grow, that's always a good thing! She had a lot of big feelings as is only suited to a fourteen year old girl.
I picked this book up because it was an Andre Norton nominee this year not thinking I would enjoy it that much. I'm not that into anime or manga- inspired stories, so it didn't seem like something I would enjoy.
That's why I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Peasprout Chen! It turned out to be a cute, creative story. I don't think I'll continue in the series, but I'm glad for award lists that get me to read outside my comfort zone.
Seems to have roots in British Boarding School fantasy, Hong Kong theater, ice skating, and just a whiff of Battle Royale. Our heroine is learning a martial art style that is done on ice skates. She is a good will ambassador of a ill willed empress. Bad parents, absent parents, cruel teachers, drunk monkeys and a utterly believable brittle heroine spin and slash their way through a city made of pearl. Fortunately, she makes a friend. Or two.
A rather good fantasy world and plot marred by the sexism. If you like “girls hate other girls” fiction you won’t mind this but I can’t bear it. Even the final friendship at the end didn’t work for me because it was pulled out of a hat.