Thursday, November 12, 2009

Julie's Review: Shanghai Girls

Summary: May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides. But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know. A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

Review: Anyone who reads this blog with regularity knows that I'm a big historical fiction fan. Lisa See is my "go to" author when it comes to historical Chinese fiction. Shanghai Girls is the 3rd book of hers that I have read. It does not disappoint. Maybe it's because I'm an older sister but I definitely identified with Pearl more than May. There were moments when I thought May had logical points but overall I found her to be a spoiled, petulant brat, even as an adult. Although, I wonder if I'd feel the same way if she was telling the story. That's why I always think that the voice authors chose to tell their story in can make or break the story.

The book spans over 20 years from Shanghai to Los Angeles. From young women with no cares in the world to women who have to realize that lives are not going to be what they envision. I love historical fiction because I really do always learn something new. I even would stop reading to inform my husband of something, he would nod and I would continue to read. I mean I didn't know that Angel Island even existed! Does it still exist as a tourist attraction like Ellis Island? Yes, it's a State Park.

I'm proud to be an American but man oh man do we have dark spots in our history. The treatment of the Chinese immigrants was deplorable. I didn't even realize that our country had Acts stipulating how many Chinese were allowed to come into the country.

I had no clue about paper sons, paper wives, etc. It amazes me what people will do to get into our great country. The things that they sacrificed to get here and it wasn't always an optional move. I admire these people because frankly I don't know if I could hack it. We as Americans are spoiled. We take our freedom for granted. Books like Shanghai Girls reminds me that it's not always so easy to gain your freedom.

So, yes the book is a history lesson but it's a story of family and the duty you feel to them. It's about how we view ourselves and how other views us and how we get stuck in our ways. It's about fear and living your life within those fears or how you deal with those fears.

The ending of the book was left open ended for a continuation. I loved that it wasn't tied up in a nice neat bow because how many situations in life end up like that? I'm hoping that Ms. See continues this story at some point in her writing career. I must note too that in the 3 books of hers that I have read always have strong female characters. I'm certain that this is what draws me back to her writing.

If you love books about family and history, I encourage you to pick up Shanghai Girls.

Final Take: 4.75/5


Serena November 12, 2009 at 12:54 PM  

I haven't read this book yet, but I will be in January for the paperback TLC book tour. Thanks for the great review.

Diane November 12, 2009 at 2:26 PM  

Great review. I did enjoy this one.

Sheila (Bookjourney) November 13, 2009 at 12:05 AM  

A girl in my book club is reading this now and raving about it. I am excited to get a chance to rad it myself.

Stephanie November 16, 2009 at 5:44 PM  

I just started reading this book today and I can't wait for some free time tonight to read more!

Mary November 21, 2009 at 9:55 AM  

I read an arc of this book several months ago and liked it. I emailed Lisa See after finishing because I wanted to know if there'd be a sequel. She wrote back and said yes! She asked what I thought might happen in a sequel and we ended up exchanging a few more emails.

Julie November 21, 2009 at 10:08 PM  

Mary - I'm thrilled to learn that she's writing a sequel. I can't wait to see what happens to May, Pearl and Joy.

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