Wu's novel, her first, tells Willa's story with subtlety and compassion; it's a literary debut that's beyond impressive ... Wu perfectly captures the feeling of being young and unmoored in a large city, unable to find close friends, and still carrying a dull pain from a childhood that was neither really happy nor unhappy ... Wu intersperses scenes from Willa's adulthood with ones from her past, and the flashbacks are masterfully done, depicting the alienation that's haunted Willa for her entire life ... filled with moments like that, quiet moments that pack a devastating emotional punch. The novel is perfectly structured; it's clear that Wu has thought carefully about each sentence. It's a book that's filled with seemingly small moments that are actually anything but — Wu understands the human heart keenly, and her novel is a subtle but powerful triumph.
[A] wrenching evocation of yearning in a slim, artful package ... Readers will be engrossed by Willa's troubled desire to please and her pervasive unease, as she seeks and then deflects the slightest attempt at connection. As she begins to meld into the Adriens' household, she reconsiders her own childhood and family homes in a series of flashbacks. The subtle racism she encounters is but one thread of Willa's distress ... With an eye for just the right detail, Wu offers an understated protagonist, self-defeating but still searching. Win Me Something is a nuanced story of longing, of the paired desires to belong and to strike one's own path. Willa is a quiet heroine, but unforgettable.
The novel features achingly copious descriptions of food, and bruising scenes of meals Willa shares but seldom enjoys with those she wishes to be closer to: her parents, Bijou, Bijou’s mother. Occasionally the narrator’s circling obsession with food weighs down the narrative, but the overall effect conveys how fraught basic functioning can be for Willa, who feels she fits in nowhere ... Wu’s finely crafted sentences and crisp imagery render visceral Willa’s inner disquiet as she simmers in that ambiguity.
Interwoven with these themes of family, love, and belonging is a quiet but resonant coming-of-age story ... Wu excels in conveying Willa’s complicated emotions throughout the novel, and the result is both satisfying and compelling. Willa learns how care can look like so many things—a nanny waiting outside a lesson, a father who lives in another state, a mother who loves you, a sibling asking for dinners when they move to the city. It’s in these subtle lessons that Wu’s quiet, understated prose builds to a deeply moving coming-of-age novel.
Wu takes readers on a powerful, introspective journey that explores race, class, and family dynamics as Willa begins nannying for the Adriens, a wealthy white family in TriBeCa ... Wu excels at capturing seemingly small moments...that carry much larger emotional heft, with the power to inflict lasting wounds ... Internal emotional tension propels the novel instead of dramatic plotting ... Unlike more typical nanny fiction, Win Me Something subverts readers’ expectations by exploring complex characters and concepts rather than relying on plot ... A beautiful debut brimming with poetic interiority, Win Me Something explores one woman’s desire for belonging. Wu unflinchingly tackles issues of race and class while also zooming in on the nuances of her characters’ daily interactions.
Debuting novelist Wu, already recognized with fellowships, residencies, and teaching appointments, crafts impressive, insightful prose ... Though of interest, her novel doesn’t quite reach the same lofty level, ultimately proving more self-indulgent than self-aware.
Wu paints a vivid and three-dimensional portrait of white Manhattan elitism. While she doesn’t shy away from showing the ways in which the Adriens and those in their social circle condescend to and exploit Willa, Wu also depicts moments of genuine connection between Willa and the Adriens, particularly Bijou. Rather than caricaturing the white employers as overtly racist, Wu emphasizes how the Adriens’ prejudices are (seemingly) 'neatly tucked away' yet manifest themselves in more insidious, subtle ways. Wu is adept at showing how these racist microaggressions intersect with class boundaries ... Wu’s descriptions of Willa’s life as a nanny capture her loneliness and sharp longing ... While Wu shades Willa’s life as a nanny with nuance and ambiguity, the family flashbacks chart a less convincing and perhaps overly linear progression. Because Willa’s dad has remarried and has two new kids, Willa now seeks a family of her own; because Willa’s mother was often unstable and absentminded, Willa now craves a connection with Nathalie, who is such a capable mother to Bijou. I couldn’t help but wish that these connections were less obvious, given how adeptly Wu explores the gray zones of belonging and exclusion elsewhere ... succeeds admirably at depicting Willa’s journey as she grapples with multiple mixed identities. The ending was especially lovely in its understatedness; Wu draws the novel to a conclusion that feels inevitable — tender, melancholic, self-reflexive, and quietly poignant. In other words, it feels like growing up.
Willa is a compelling but unreliable narrator: there is much more to Bijou’s family than she is ever aware of. Her desire to belong—such a human instinct—makes her relatable, as do her occasional, mild indiscretions, such as sneaking into her boss’s room to try on make-up. She spends so long wondering why she doesn’t fit in that she never thinks about how her own actions might contribute to her present situation. That realization, as late as it comes, may allow her to find a place for herself at last ... a wistful novel about how much effort it can take to find and settle into your place in the world.
Wu’s debut eschews many of the tropes of current fiction, particularly nanny fiction. Do not expect sexual or physical abuse, quirky characters, weird secrets, or biting tweet-ready wit; do not expect shocking plot twists or an exposé of evil parents or bosses ... Bijou is a heartbreakingly complex child with anxieties that adults, including Willa, don’t always notice. Ultimately, expect subtle surprises as Willa’s relationships evolve in a satisfying accumulation of carefully drawn small moments that build toward her understanding, even acceptance, of both an imperfect world and herself. No fireworks here, but everyday struggles rendered into a deeply poignant story.
Wu’s compassionate debut traces one woman’s search for belonging via her memories of growing up in two households ... Through the characters’ kinships—some familial, some chosen—Wu brilliantly lays out the complicated dynamics of love, belonging, and care that exist within all relationships. Fans of Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age will love this.