The Girl Mechanic Of Wanzhou, a middle-grade novel by Marjorie Sayer, is set in the fictitious city of Wanzhou, China, during the turn of the 20th century. It is a story of a 12-year-old girl, named Zun, on the run from the Magistrate who is trying to retrieve back-taxes in the form of her father’s bicycle after the death of her father and amputation of her mother’s arm.
Zun accompanied her father at work, who was a mechanic on the verge of revolutionizing the way bicycles were built. In a time when a Chinese girl’s education was only reserved for the wealthy, Zun gained knowledge through experience — mechanical skills from her father and reading and writing from her mother who scripted for a living. The story takes a turn when Zun realizes that the intent of the Magistrate was more than just collecting taxes. The bicycle and its creation becomes a key role in why Zun wants to avenge her father’s death and rescue her mother. Her journey leads to old family friends who help her with her mission.
The moment I started reading, I felt as if I stepped back in time to the dusty and busy streets of a small city in China. The descriptions of the city — the food, smells, buildings, and people were truly vivid and set the stage. I couldn’t help but imagine myself there, running alongside Zun as she’s shivering from the cold, disguising herself as a boy, or sneaking around in Magistrate’s compound.