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Waverly is a young girl in Chinatown. She becomes a chess champion, which allows the conflict of mother and daughter to be played out. Her mother likes to brag about Waverly's achievements, but does not really listen to Waverly. As Waverly's success grows, her mother lets her get away with more and more, but when Waverly tires of her mother's incessant bragging they have a monumental fight that leaves a void between them.
At the beginning the narrator recalls, "I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.” The plot concerns Waverly learning the “art of invisible strength,” which is Waverly's search for an identity that is both Chinese and American. After their fight and Waverly runs away, she eventually returns, and her mother says she will no longer have anything to do with her daughter. Waverly imagines playing a game of chess with her mother where her mother's pieces conquer all of her own. However, the story ends with Waverly learning this “invisible strength” through her mother’s teachings: “As her men drew closer to my edge, I felt myself growing light. I rose up into the air and flew out the window. Higher and higher, above the alley, over the tops of tiled roofs, where I was gathered up by the wind and pushed up toward the night sky until everything below me disappeared and I was alone. I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.” With invisible strength she can fly, become who she is on her own terms (“be alone”) and then make her next move in the metaphorical chess game of life.
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