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We get a flashback to when Waverly was six-years-old and her mother teaches her about the art of invisible strength via a weekly trip to the supermarket.
When Waverly throws a hissy fit because she can’t have a treat – a bag of salted plums – her mom tells her the "Strongest wind cannot be seen." So next time when they go shopping, Waverly doesn’t make a fuss, and her mom quietly buys her the salted plums.
Waverly’s family lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown, above a Chinese bakery.
Waverly and the other neighborhood kids spend their time playing in the dark alleys and poking around the local shops: a medicinal herb shop, a fish market, a café, etc.
Waverly is named for their address: Waverly Place. She is the youngest in the family, and the only daughter. Her name at home is "Meimei," which means "Little Sister."
During the annual Christmas party at First Chinese Baptist Church, Waverly sits on Santa’s lap. She knows he’s not the real Santa, because Santa isn’t Chinese. Still she says that she’s a good girl, and strategically selects a present, already having observed that the biggest presents aren’t always the best, and attempting to judge the gift by it’s weight.
Waverly ends up with a twelve pack of lifesavers, not bad. Her older brother, Vincent, receives an old chess set – one that’s missing pieces.
Waverly rapidly becomes obsessed with the game, watching her brothers, Vincent and Winston, play.
Vincent allows her to play in exchange for some lifesavers.
Waverly begins by questioning all of the rules, stuff like, why can’t pawns move more than one step at a time. Waverly’s mom compares the arbitrary rules of chess to "American rules" that immigrants have to deal with.
Waverly researches all of the rules and studies the strategy involved in the game.
She learns that chess "is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell." Sounds like her mom’s invisible strength of the wind.
Soon, her brothers get sick of losing to their little sister, and Waverly begins playing against an old man, Lau Po, in the park. She loses lots of lifesavers to him, but he becomes a great mentor.
Waverly begins playing (and beating) a bunch of locals, until someone recommends she try a local tournament.
In her first tournament, she beats a fifteen-year-old boy, the whole time she’s thinking of wind analogies from her mom.
Waverly becomes a neighborhood celebrity when she starts winning all sorts of tournaments.
By the time she is nine, she is featured in Life magazine as a child prodigy, after beating a fifty-year-old man. During this particular competition, Waverly uses all kinds of strategic body language designed to make her opponent underestimate her as an indecisive, cute little girl.
Waverly stops doing everything but going to school and practicing chess.
There’s a problem though: Waverly’s annoying mom likes to hover when she practices.
In return for all this chess success, Waverly gets a lot of perks. She no longer has to do the dishes, sleep in the room next to the street, or finish her food at meals.
She cannot, however, avoid going with her mother to the market.
On one such trip, Waverly gets fed up and yells at her mother, alleging that these shopping trips are just to show her off.
Waverly runs away.
When she comes home, she imagines a chess match against her mother.