Waverly’s neighborhood is in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The family occupies a two-bedroom flat above a bakery on Waverly Place, the street that inspired Waverly’s name. Waverly and her brothers enjoy playing in the alley behind their building.
At the end of our two-block alley was a small sandlot playground with swings and slides well-shined down the middle with use. …The best playground, however, was the dark alley itself.
Also in the neighborhood is a shop that sells medicinal herbs, a printer’s shop, and a fish market. There is also a small restaurant that tourists stay away from because the menu is printed only in Chinese. At the end of the alley is the First Chinese Baptist Church, where Waverly’s brother got his chess set at the Christmas party.
In the beginning of the story, Waverly introduces us simultaneously to Chinese culture and to her neighborhood. We learn about Waverly’s mother, about how the shopkeepers feel, and about how the people of Chinatown feel about tourists. This gives us a better understanding of the role chess will play in Waverly’s life and in the neighborhood.