Stacey Lee’s Kill Her Twice is a fascinating historical fiction/murder mystery written for young adults. Based loosely on the character Anna May Wong, who is considered the first female Chinese American Hollywood movie star, the novel tells the story of the challenges faced by Chinese people living in Los Angeles, California, in 1932.

Lee presents her clues by alternating between the perspectives of two teens: May Chow, 19, and her sister Gemma, 17, who sell flowers in City Market. The girls’ father, Ba, always told his daughters that “his three fierce clouds—Mei Wun, or ‘beautiful cloud,’ for May; Gam Wun, or ‘fresh cloud,’ for [Gemma]; and Pan Wun, or ‘wishful cloud,’ for [their] youngest sister, Peony—would blow favorable winds to [the] family (2). But with the city’s plans to bulldoze the heart of China Town for a train station, Gemma worries the winds might scatter them to new households sooner than they are ready.

One member of their community, Lulu Wong has made it big, playing starring roles on the silver screen. However, someone begins stealing her scripts. Soon, Lulu turns up dead. Who drove her car to the Mercantile lot, smoked Liberté cigarettes, and left Lulu’s body in the horse lot?

The police aren’t eager to find Lulu’s killer. In fact, they frame an innocent man. Believing that “the wheels of justice turn for some but others they just ran right over” (52), Gemma and May are unwilling to let such miscarriages of justice go. Despite their mother’s warnings to let the detectives do their jobs, the pair investigates Lulu’s murder on their own, looking for the killer and his or her motive. Lulu was an independent woman who got tired of other people holding the reins. Did her desire to take them back get her killed? Or was it her belief: “Act like you have power, and you just might get it” (277). Perhaps it was a disgruntled co-star or a jealous career climber?

As the pair search for answers, they brush up against corruption and danger. Undeterred and believing that no reward comes without risk, Gemma and May soldier on, finding unlikely allies along the way while also jeopardizing their lives.

A lover of metaphors, Lee shares advice from Ba: “What I want is for all of you to follow your hearts, even if it means finding new skies to explore. Life is too short to spend living someone else’s dreams” (327). On another occasion, Gemma determines: “If the family were a dragon, Ba was the head, providing direction; Ma, the body, connecting all parts; and May, the wings, helping us fly the course. I was the tail. Though the wings thought they were in control, it was really the tail that steered. The tail was also capable of striking on its own” (201). True to that metaphor, the two detectives uncover the truth.

  • Posted by Donna

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