Willa Chen has never quite fit in. Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl in New Jersey, Willa felt both hyper-visible and unseen, too Asian to fit in at her mostly white school, and too white to speak to the few Asian kids around. For years, Willa does her best to stifle her feelings of loneliness, drifting through high school and then college as she tries to quiet the unease inside her. But when she begins working for the Adriens—a wealthy white family in Tribeca—as a nanny for their daughter, Bijou, Willa is confronted with all of the things she never had.
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.