‘Shu Yi’ by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Stories about children making bad decisions always make my toes curl and leave a devasting impression on me. In ‘Shu Yi’, our narrator is Ava, a young and somewhat lonely bookworm. Her mother, who “worked tirelessly to fit [their] brown-skinned family of five into conservative white suburbia” asks her to befriend new girl Shu Yi. Although Ava describes her as “the most beautiful creature I had ever seen” and “exactly what I would have been like, if I were a little less me” she recognises Shu Yi not as a kindred spirit, but as a social burden in a school whose racism permeates the very air around them. Caught in a net of internalised racism and with the strong desire to slip through school unseen, Ava shuns Shu Yi, with devastating consequences. A must-read about racism, fitting in and peer pressure.

First published in Peril, 2010, and collected in Foreign Soil, Hackette Australia, 2014/Corsair 2015