Our December shopsitter Jennifer wrote a shelf review of this novel (something she started and we’ve kept up since) for this book, and I picked it up on her recommendation. It’s a fast read, perhaps slightly predictable, but Kwok’s writing is powerful in the way she constructs it. There are few surprises in this book, just the pleasure of that fast, confident writing.
The narrator is an immigrant from China with a very rough life, and the juxtaposition of her intellectual prowess at an Ivy League prep school against the work she does with her mother at a clothing factory gives the novel much of its power. It’s also autobiographical, and at the points where it gets most realistic, it pulls back. She expresses fury at her mother for being a doormat, then never mentions it again. That kind of thing. The reader is left to ignore or fill in blanks.
This doesn’t really take away from the interest in reading, but it does make you feel rather voyeuristic; this book has a similar fascination to Random Family, but perhaps less direct impact. It’s fiction, based on real life, but fiction. Some stuff is nicer than real life, although I doubt much of it is worse.
The love triangle element is one of the most developed subplots of the book, making this a great bathtub or airplane read. It’s got some lovely teen angst moments that everyone can identify with.
If you’re intrigued by the hardness of big city life on families facing hardship to begin with, if Chinese culture in general fascinates you, if you like stories of overcoming, you’ll like this one. It’s almost fairy tale-esque in its ending. Honestly, it’s how well Kwok writes that saves this story from falling through the cracks. She has a lovely way with words, keeping them simple but strong.