Anna May Wong. Chances are, even if you don’t know who she is, you’ve heard the name before. And for good reason. When The Brightest Star by Gail Tsukiyama popped up to request on NetGalley, I immediately knew I had to have it. And boy am I glad I did.

At the same time that America is falling in love with silent movies, so too is young Wong Liu-Tsong (or Anna as the American doctors named her). When she’s meant to be learning Chinese, she chooses instead to sneak away to the local nickelodeons and use her lunch money and tips from her family’s laundry business to buy her way into movies. Determined to become a movie star, she picks the stage name Anna May Wong and leaves school at the age of sixteen to pursue her dream, against the will of her father. It’s an uphill battle as she has to fight against anti-miscegenation laws and prejudices in the industry and America as a whole.

I’ve said it once and I’ll keep saying it: historical fiction should make me want to dive into a research rabbit hole following its reading and that is exactly what this book does. Utilizing primary sources, Tsukiyama presents to us a fictionalized version of Anna May Wong while still providing the actual timeline of her rise to fame.

The story is told in two timelines: Anna May in the present reading the her journals of the past. Despite some of the terrible things that happen in her life, the entire book feels like you are sitting down and listening to Anna May tell you her story like you are old friends. It is warm and inviting and elicits immense empathy for the struggles she had to go through.

A powerful story about a beautiful soul who was strong enough to blaze the trail for all those to come after, this story had me engaged from start to finish. Its warmth is incredibly comforting and I found myself turning page after page, completely invested in Anna May's story. From her highest highs to her lowest lows, I felt like I was going through everything with her, feeling joy at her successes and grief at her losses. After reading this book, I feel like Anna May Wong is a long-lost friend that I had previously lost touch with and recently found again.

The Brightest Soul by Gail Tsukiyama is available now so pick up a copy for yourself here and fall in love with Anna May Wong (and prepare to fall down a research rabbit hole).

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2023 Book Recommendations."