From the New York Times bestselling author of Front Desk comes the sequel to Finally Seen in which Lina gets a phone and tries to navigate social media, only to discover not everything online is what it seems.
When ten-year-old Lina Gao sees her mom’s video on social media take off, she’s captivated by the potential to be seen and heard! Maybe online she can finally find the confidence she craves. Whereas in real life she’s growing so fast, she feels like microwave popcorn, bursting out of her skin!
With the help of her two best friends, Carla and Finn, and her little sister, Millie, Lina sets off to go viral. Except there’s a lot more to social media than Lina ever imagined, like:
1. Seeing inside her classmates’ lives!Is she really the only person on the planet who doesn’t have a walk-in closet? 2. Group chats! Disappearing videos!What is everyone talking about in the secret chats? And how can she join? 3. A bazillion stories about what to eat, wear, and put on her face. Could they all be telling the truth? Everyone sounds so sure of what they’re saying!
As Lina descends deeper and deeper into social media, it will take all her strength to break free from the likes and find the courage to be her authentic self in this fast-paced world.
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Mom!” Millie, my sister, protests, banging on the door. “Lina’s locked the door again!”
I search through my closet, frantically. How can T-shirts that fit me perfectly a week ago, now suddenly not fit?
“I didn’t lock anything,” I insist, glancing at the doorknob. Definitely locked. “It’s probably just stuck again.…” I tell my sister to jiggle it harder, to buy myself some time.
I sneak a look back at the mirror. I’ve gone through growth spurts before, but this one feels different.
I seem to be growing in all kinds of places, places I’m not ready for!
“Lina, c’mon! Your sister has to change too,” Mom says in Chinese, walking over and knocking on the door. “Can you guys change together?”
Definitely not. I grab a blanket and cover myself with it. For a second, I seriously consider cutting a hole in the blanket and wearing that to school. At least then I wouldn’t feel like microwave popcorn, exploding out of the kernel.
“Seriously, Lina, spring break is over. We’re going to be late for school!” Mom says in her I mean business tone.
I know I have exactly five seconds before they both come flying in here. I stare at the mirror one more time, closing my eyes, hoping, praying for everything to just go back to the old days.
Days when I could walk into school with a thin white shirt, and not even think twice if anyone stared. When I didn’t tower over the boys. When I could play hangman, without freaking out. Last night, when Millie and I were playing, and Millie wrote _ O O _ S, I got so upset, I almost threw a slipper at her. When actually her word was books.
I felt like a real dope when she added the K. Like now, after I opened my eyes. Still the same. Nothing’s changed.
I make a final attempt to appeal to Mom.
“Do I have to go to school?” I ask through the door.
“Of course you have to go to school today,” Mom responds. “Is it the photo? Are you still worried about that?”
I glance at the picture my mom’s talking about, taped up on my desk, next to all my doodles. Right before spring break, Catherine Wang, my favorite author in the whole world, came to speak at my school. As her #1 all-time biggest fan, I was the first in her signing line. But as Mrs. Hollins, my librarian, snapped the picture of me and her (I was so worried and self-conscious about my… er… books), I panicked and put my hands up in front of my chest at the last second.
The result? Catherine looking amazing, and me looking like I’m trying to block a basketball.
“A lot of people have photo anxiety,” Mom says through the door. “It’s not a big deal.”
I wish it were photo anxiety. Cringing, I walk over to the photo. I fold it in half. There. Now at least I don’t have to look at myself.
But then I think of my immigrant mom, tidying up my room later and seeing the folded picture. She works so hard for me and my sister. Every day she wakes up at 5 a.m. to make bath bombs, which she sells online to support our family, so we can live here and go to a great school. And it really is a great school! I’m finally doing well in my classes. I’ve learned English, thanks to my teachers and my wonderful librarian. And I’ve made great friends, like Carla and Finn.
I unfold the picture, because I don’t want Mom to be sad. I’ll just… keep looking at my basketball pose.
One day, I tell myself, I won’t be an awkward mess. I’ll stand tall and proud, with my chest out and my arms down and a smile on my face. It’ll happen. Just not… today.
“LINA! I’m coming in!” Millie exclaims.
I lunge for the closet and grab a sweatshirt, even though it’s ninety degrees in LA and my socks are already sticky. Still, it’s better to be baking than to be sorry.
“You look like Lao Lao, with her gazillion layers!” Millie giggles in the car as she moves her arms. My sister is always dancing, even when she’s sitting. I frown, envying her cutoff jean shorts and orange tank top. Our grandma loves wearing two puffy vests, even when she’s inside her warm and toasty room in her retirement home in Beijing.
“Yeah, are you sure you’re not too hot, sweetie?” Mom asks as she drives.
I yank at the neck of my sweatshirt, wishing we had air-conditioning in the car. “Nope, I’m good. Let’s call Lao Lao!”
My grandma and I spent five whole years together in China, while my parents and Millie came to America first to get things settled. It makes me sad that she lives all the way on the other side of the world now, but she’s recently made some good buddies in her retirement home. And we’re able to “see” her all the time, since she finally caved and got a smartphone!
“In a bit. I’m expecting that call from Bella Winters any minute, remember?” Mom asks.
“Explain, again, why we have to pay some influencer to make videos about our bath bombs?” I ask. “And how much are we paying her?”
“Hopefully it’s not something outrageous. Her manager said she liked our vibe. We absolutely need her. We’re getting crushed. All everyone wants to do is buy from the popular brands they follow online. You’ve seen our sales lately.” Mom sighs, holding up her phone to show us.
My sister and I stare at the sad, tiny number. Only three orders yesterday.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago, Mom was getting interest from real, physical stores that wanted to carry her bath bombs. Then, overnight, twenty more bath bomb stores opened up on Etsy—all with slick social media accounts. And our numbers fell through the floor.
No wonder Dad had to get a second job, parking cars for the restaurant valet after he’s done at the lab. Now he looks like a raccoon when he finally gets home in the middle of the night.
“It’s a whole other skill, social media, and I just don’t have it. Those videos take hours to put together—” Mom’s phone rings as she’s explaining. Mom screams and shushes me and my sister. “It’s her! She’s FaceTiming us! Everyone be quiet!”
Mom clicks accept. Bella comes on the screen, smiling and fluttering her extremely long lashes, like a burst of sunshine.
“Hi! Bella!” Mom says, switching to English, pulling over the car. “We’re sooo excited you’re interested in working together—”
“About that,” Bella says, holding up her Pomeranian, whose rainbow coat matches her eyelashes. “So I talked it over with my manager, and he says I can’t go lower than five thousand dollars a video.”
Millie and I lunge forward, our heads almost falling off. No, Mom! We gesture wildly in the rearview mirror. Forget the video. For that price, we can buy an entire bath bomb car.
“Five… Wow, that’s a lot,” Mom takes a second to find the words. “We don’t have that kind of money. We just a small business, just me and my daughters. Only five sales a day—”
“And without social media, that’s where you’ll stay,” Bella says. “Five sales a day, dead in six months.”
Dead? I frown. She doesn’t know that! I poke Mom not to listen to her; I don’t care how colorful her eyelashes are.
“Look, I’m offering you a pretty good deal, considering…”
“Considering?” I chime in, crossing my arms.
“Considering you don’t have any social media presence. I’d literally be making a video about a company NO ONE’S ever heard of—”
“I’ve heard of it!” I remind her.
Bella repeats, to my great annoyance, “NO ONE’S ever heard of, and asking my followers to believe me that it’s legit—not some gross, moldy ball of baking soda that’s going to crumble in your hands like vacuum dust.”
My sister’s and my jaws drop.
“Well, it’s definitely not that,” Mom responds sharply.
“?’Course. I believe you. But the internet? It’s a harsh place. And who knows what they’ll believe, unless you have someone like me vouching for you. But it’ll cost some dough,” Bella says sweetly. Before we can say another word, she waves her long manicured fingers and says, “Text me your answer. Ciao!”
The call ends.
“So much for liking our vibe,” Mom mutters, switching back to Chinese.
“Mom, you cannot pay five thousand dollars for a video!” I blurt out. “You could buy a whole bath bomb factory with that!”
“We could buy a new air conditioner!” Millie says, fiddling with the vents in our car.
“We could buy eighty thousand new shirts for me!” I add. That actually fit.
“First of all, no one’s getting any new shirts in these circumstances,” Mom says, starting the car again. My hopes sag along with my thick sweatshirt. “And there is no way I’m giving her five thousand dollars. If I had that kind of money, then I wouldn’t need her help. Business would actually be good!”
I shake my head. It’s so unfair. How can Bella charge so much for one video, when my parents grind away for just pennies?
“What if we did it ourselves?” Millie asks. “I could dance to your bath bombs!”
“That’s actually not a bad idea!” I add. We can totally do this ourselves. “Millie, remember when you used to make dance videos? How many followers did you have?”
“Fifteen…” Millie says.
“Fifteen!” I beam at Mom.
“And I can juggle the bombs to show they don’t crumble!” Millie says.
“And I could…” I pause, trying to think of something I can do that wouldn’t involve showing my awkward… er… books. “Stack them on my head?”
Mom gives me a funny look as the phone rings. It’s Lao Lao calling.
“Lao Lao!” Millie exclaims. “Tell Mom to let us make videos for her for social media! C’mon, it’ll be so good!”
“The girls, on social media?” Lao Lao asks, putting her comb down. She stares into the camera at Mom. “Oh no, they’re way too young. All my friends here who have grandkids, they never let their grandkids on WeChat,” Lao Lao says, referring to China’s largest social media platform. “I thought you were hiring someone.”
“We were, but she wanted to charge five thousand dollars,” Mom tells her.
“Oh, that’s ridiculous! For five thousand, you guys can fly over and see me. I’m so lonesome in my room, all by myself.…”
I lean in, concerned. I thought things were going better for Lao Lao there. My grandmother had been telling me her arthritis was improving.
“Is everything okay?” I say in a soft voice. “Is it your friends? Are they not being nice?”
“Oh no, it’s not that. They’re fine,” Lao Lao says. “I just get a little sad, that’s all. The ambulance comes at least once a day. Put it this way, we’re all painfully aware that this is the end of the road.”
“It’s not the end of the road. Hang in there,” Mom says to Lao Lao emphatically. “We’ll be back to see you soon, I promise. I’ll… figure something out.”
“I hope so,” Lao Lao says as Mom pulls up to our school.
My sister waves to Lao Lao and jumps out of the car, shooting off across the yard. I wave at Lao Lao too, but linger for a second, staring out at all my classmates. How come their buttons don’t look like they’re about to pop off? Their pants don’t look like they were chopped at the ankles by a woodpecker?
The questions multiply in my head, until five whole minutes have gone by.
Mom turns to me and pulls her sunglasses down. “Don’t worry… we’ll find a solution, sweetie.”
I know she’s not talking about my shirt situation at all, but I imagine she is, and it helps.
I put on my bravest smile, as I get out, so Mom knows I’ll be all right.
And I will be. I think.
Reading Group Guide
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One year after moving to the United States from China, Lina Gao is finally feeling at home in her new life in California. Her family is together again, her English has seriously improved, and her friends, teachers, and favorite books continue to inspire her. But why does Lina feel so unsettled? Her body is changing, her family is constantly strapped for money, and she and her best friend, Carla, are the only two holdouts in the fifth grade without cell phones. Things begin to change when her mom’s bath-bomb business is boosted by a viral social media video, and Lina is finally able to get her own phone. Seeing the potential of social media to amplify others’ voices, Lina becomes a content creator, making videos to help struggling and unheard business owners in the community.
With each view and like of her social media posts, Lina’s excitement grows and her dopamine levels skyrocket. The good feelings don’t last very long, however. Lina finds herself comparing her videos’ popularity to posts made by her classroom nemesis, Jessica, and struggles to ignore the haters leaving mean comments. Soon Lina’s insecurities are blooming, she is hacking into private group chats, and checking her phone has become a full-blown addiction. Amidst the chaos of views, comments, likes, and follows, Lina must figure out how to navigate online spaces with social kindness and find the courage to reveal her true self and finally be heard.
Pros and Cons of Social Media
Finally Heard is a story about social media and children. The highs and lows of social media use and what it can do to young people’s minds and lives are richly described, and students would benefit from an ongoing conversation about this topic at all stages of reading.
Before reading, invite students to share their experiences with social media and with cell phones. Begin a list of pros and cons of social media using a T-chart, and ask students to share and jot down their opinions. As they read, students can add to the chart independently, and their contributions may be used for further group discussion. After the text is finished, this exploration can be extended through a class debate or persuasive writing activities.
1. Lina and Carla are different from most of the kids in their school in several ways, including racially and socioeconomically. Most noticeably, they are the only two students in their class, and the whole fifth grade, to not have their own cell phones. How does this make them feel? Describe a time when you felt worried about standing out in a crowd.
2. Lina overhears her classmates Nate and Preston talking to Finn about hanging out online. She thinks they “have this whole other life” she doesn’t know about and wonders if they act differently in online spaces. (Chapter two) In what ways might people have online lives that are different from their real-world lives? Why might this be appealing?
3. Lina’s mom wipes away tears of joy when her first video about her bath-bomb business goes viral. Mrs. Gao states, “‘The internet is an equalizer!’” (Chapter thirty-six) What does that phrase mean? Do you agree with the statement? Why or why not?
4. Mrs. Gao sings along to Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All” and passionately croons the line “If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe.” (Chapter ten) Lina describes the song as her mother’s battle cry, her life motto. Why do you think the song means so much to Mrs. Gao, and how do you think she is living out her beliefs? Can you think of a song or lyric that represents your own battle cry?
5. Jessica, one of Lina’s classmates, exhibits bullying behavior throughout the story. Bullying is more aggressive than teasing and is a form of intentional behavior that is done repeatedly to cause a person harm. What are some examples of how Jessica bullies Lina? How is Jessica’s behavior different from other classmates’ behavior that bothers Lina as well? Consider how Lina responds to Jessica’s actions. What does Lina do or say in response, and do you agree with Lina’s actions?
6. Lina feels different from most of her classmates for many reasons. One major cause is the wealth gap between her family and most of the other families at her school. What is some evidence from the book that the Gaos have financial struggles? How do these financial struggles impact their daily lives?
7. The Gao family are first-generation immigrants, meaning they are foreign-born but have permanently settled in a new country. When Mrs. Gao begins to use social media, she says, “‘For the first time since coming to America, I have a voice! I thought when I left China, that wasn’t ever going to happen to me again.’” (Chapter fifteen) Why does she say this? Why do you think immigrants might feel as if they don’t have a voice in their new country of residence?
8. Lina, along with most of her classmates, begins to become addicted to social media. Addiction is a condition in which someone has uncontrollable and frequent urges to engage in behavior that is harmful. Mrs. Carter explains that dopamine, the “feel-good chemical” in our brains, fuels people’s addiction to social media. (Chapter thirty-four) What is some evidence from the story that Lina is becoming addicted to her phone or to social media? What are some things we can do to break the dopamine loop of social media for ourselves?
9. While talking to Lina about her struggles with Jessica, Lao Lao reminds Lina that “‘sometimes those who don’t deserve our kindness need it the most.’” (Chapter thirty-five) How does this apply to Jessica? Reflect on somebody from your own life who you might not feel deserves your kindness but needs it anyway. What are some ways you might extend a gracious act to them?
10. Finn and many of the kids in fifth grade use the app Discord to hold private chats. Finn describes the conversations on Discord by saying, “‘It’s not real.’” (Chapter thirty-seven) What do you think Finn means by that? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
11. Aunt Jing reminds Lina and her mother of the story about the Greek God Narcissus, who died because he could not stop staring at his own reflection in the water. Aunt Jing muses that “‘social media’s the water.’” (Chapter forty) Why does she say this? What is the warning that Aunt Jing is communicating?
12. Throughout the story, Lina worries about how she looks and is perceived by others. Her insecurities are fed by the images of idealized beauty she sees on social media. How do these images and beauty trends impact Lina’s self-esteem? How might unrealistic beauty standards affect your own self-esteem? Reflect on the changes that occur in Lina’s confidence throughout the story and identify points in the text that impact her ability to perceive herself positively.
13. Mrs. Carter witnesses multiple, growing issues with her students’ constant use of phones and social media. She warns the class that they must be more aware of misinformation online, saying, “‘Just like with articles online, when you watch a video, ask yourself, what makes this person an expert? Do they have credentials? Or are they just trying to sell me something? Because that’s a red flag.’” (Chapter forty-nine) Why is misinformation such a big threat on the internet? What are some ways that misinformation can be spread within social media? What were some examples of misinformation in the text?
14. Lina gets upset when Jessica makes a video about the chocolate coin that Finn gifts to her. She says, “I can’t believe Jessica took a nice, kind, private gesture and made it content.” (Chapter fifty) What does Lina mean, and why is she so upset? What is the difference between real life and “content”?
15. Another lesson Mrs. Carter teaches her class revolves around “The Algorithm and How It Changes Us.” She explains that algorithms are a form of technology that companies can use to track our digital footprint and shape what we see online. Lina realizes that is the reason she keeps seeing makeup and skincare videos on her phone even though she only looked them up once. In this way, algorithms work to create feedback loops—social media shapes what we see, and what we see shapes who we become. Can you think of an example of a feedback loop you have experienced either in social media or in life generally?
16. When Lina finally confesses to how depressed and worried she has become due to her social media usage and personal insecurities, her mother tells her, “‘Being strong doesn’t mean you suffer silently.’” (Chapter sixty-seven) She points out that being strong does not mean that you should hide your problems, pretend like they aren’t happening, or put up with abuse. Can you think of a time in your life when you suffered silently? Why did you do so? How can we share our suffering instead, and how might it be helpful?
17. Lao Lao explains to Lina that courage can mean not being afraid of being vulnerable or being one’s true self. What is so scary about being vulnerable? Describe a time when you showed courage by being confident in yourself.
18. Lina and the members of the “Balloon Powered Car Challenge” private chat group are required to attend a Justice Session to address their cyberbullying. Principal Bennett states the purpose of the Justice Session is to “‘repair and heal as a community.’” (Chapter sixty-nine) What needed to happen in the session for the community to repair and heal? How was justice served at this meeting?
19. For youth and adults alike, one danger of social media is that what we see online is only carefully selected glimpses of people’s lives. Naturally, these are likely to be moments of celebration or accomplishment. The more mundane, disappointing, or ugly parts of life are hidden. How is Lina affected by seeing her classmates’ “highlight reels”? How is she affected during the Justice Session when her classmates reveal more of the background behind these posts?
Digital Storytelling: Create Your Own Book Talks
Mrs. Hollins, the school librarian, asks Lina, Carla, and Finn for help by creating videos recommending their favorite books to other students for the library’s website. Lina’s nervous about being on camera, but after helping her mother with a video for her business, Lina gathers the courage to record her own book talk video.
Invite students to make their own book talks or reviews about their favorite reads and share it with the class or library, just like Lina and her friends do in Finally Heard. If student video assignments are restricted, or students don’t feel comfortable being recorded, consider switching the assignment to class presentations.
Our Brains on Screens
Lina’s teacher, Mrs. Carter, talks to the class about how social media effects people, changing their brain chemistry and helping them get addicted to the dopamine hits that come from likes, comments, and messages. Dopamine is the chemical that’s released when a person does something enjoyable or rewarding, and in response it provides a temporary feeling of happiness and joy. Dopamine is what helps people get “hooked” or form habits for certain activities, like exercise, snacking, shopping, and scrolling social media (Dopamine: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Unhealthy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7fT9U3Q2-o).
Start a class discussion about what off-screen activities, hobbies, or events gives each student a dopamine hit. What do they enjoy and want to keep doing that doesn’t involve a phone, computer, or TV screen? Assign students individual posters, in which they write out or draw what gives them dopamine boosts so they can share them with other students and classes.
Carla befriends a person online calling himself Jake Evermoon. Though he poses as a fellow ten-year-old child, it is revealed that Jake is an alias for a much older man who preys on children to steal their parents’ credit card information. This plotline draws attention to one of the most central issues surrounding children and social media—privacy and safety. As children spend more time online, it is of the utmost importance that they are also taught about basic internet safety. If possible, ask your school or district about collaborative opportunities with technology teachers, information specialists, or librarians to teach dedicated sessions on the topic of cybersafety. Dedicate time toward informational cybersafety seminars. These can be held throughout the school year and across grade levels.
Some questions to ask and discuss with students include the following:
a. What is private information? Why should I keep this to myself on the internet?
b. What information is okay to share online?
c. How can we keep online friendships safe and friendly?
d. How can you protect yourself from scams or phishing?
e. What should we avoid clicking on while using the internet?
f. What actions can we take to protect our privacy online?
Take Action! Bullying Intervention and Prevention Group Work
A central theme in the text is bullying. Sheriff Dan Stormhammer reminds the parents and children of Winfield that “‘every child deserves to feel safe in their school, and their home.’” (Chapter fifty-nine) According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is a type of aggressive behavior that intentionally and repeatedly causes another person harm. This can take the form of physical contact, words, or harassing behavior. When this is done using technology such as phones, emails, or social media, this is called cyberbullying.
To build awareness of what bullying can look like and what children and adults can do in response, direct students in a group writing activity. Have students form small groups of four or five students and create a scenario in which bullying occurs. Include various roles in the scenario including an aggressor, target, ally, and bystander. As they write fictionalized scenarios, encourage groups to think up action steps for bullying intervention and prevention. Students should not include real names of children in their scenarios. This activity is adapted from a lesson from the Anti-Defamation League. Please check out this organization (https://www.adl.org) for more resources on bullying prevention.
Illustrate the Idiom
As an English language learner, Lina is surprised by some of the phrases and sayings that her classmates and teachers use. Many things they say are not meant to be taken literally and instead mean something else entirely! These phrases are called idioms. For example, Jessica calls Lina a “Goody Two-shoes” when Lina handwrites a letter of apology to her teacher, but Lina is confused and looks down at her shoes. Later, when Jessica tells Lina she wants to “clear the air,” Lina thinks she is talking about air pollution when Jessica is trying to apologize for her behavior.
Introduce and teach more idioms with a simple graphic organizer. Create a worksheet that includes a large space for a picture and two text boxes. Label one box “Idiom” and the other “Meaning.” Highlight various idioms and have students fill out the worksheet by writing the idiom, explaining its meaning, and drawing a picture. For example, for the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs,” the meaning may be explained as “a heavy rain,” and the picture could be a child holding an umbrella with cats and dogs falling around him. Exposure to idioms is especially helpful for language learners and benefits all students’ language and literacy development.
This guide was written by Dr. Joanne Yi, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Indiana University.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Kelly Yang is the New York Times bestselling author of Front Desk (winner of the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature), Parachutes, Three Keys, Room to Dream, New from Here, Finally Seen, and Finally Heard. Front Desk also won the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal, was the 2019 Global Read Aloud, and has earned numerous other honors including being named a best book of the year by Amazon, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and NPR. Learn more at KellyYang.com.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 27, 2024)