Summary: Daiyu is a St. Louis teenager doing typical teenage things: working at a summer job, exploring the Arch grounds, and helping her father as he rehabs a house in a historic neighborhood. Here’s how the book describes her ethnicity, based on a question by a stranger who is working for her father:
“Are you one of those Chinese babies?” he asked.
She smiled. “I’m hardly a baby anymore, but yes, my parents adopted me from China when I was six months old.”
When Daiyu buys a ring from an old lady at a festival on the Arch grounds, she is suddenly transported to a different place, similar to, but different from St. Louis. In this new world, the majority of the people are Chinese and the whites and blacks are minorities that are less advantaged.
Thoughts: This book delighted me in the first few chapters, the ones set in our world, because it is set in my world — in St. Louis, with many of my favorite landmarks and activities. I also have a long-term fascination with “Chinese babies” and all the social and moral implications in both China and the United States. None of those issues are really addressed here which I liked because in the life of each individual girl, it’s not those issues that matter. And, I have an odd fascination with Daiyu’s father’s occupation of serially fixing up houses while the family lives in them. Like acting, that’s a career that I enjoy thinking about, in part, because it’s so completely out of the realm of my skill set.
Caught up in those delights, I was swept along for the ride through the alternate universe and all of the surprises there and the difficult decisions that young Daiyu faces.
Appeal: Daiyu is seventeen in the novel, but the issues the book deals with are appropriate for much younger ages. The romance is very mild and sweet and the action is never truly violent or horrific. With a female protagonist, this will mostly appeal to girls, but the guys will like the alternate universe and the many male characters throughout, especially the romantic male lead.
Challenges: I will put this down as a Buy One Book and Read It challenge entrant. It’s hardback so I was thinking it was a library book the whole time I read it. But it’s not. Good thing I realized that before I returned it!
Reviews: This book was widely reviewed when it came out. Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library reveals more of the plot and agrees with me that the ideal reader may be several years younger than the protagonist. I enjoyed the summary at The Book Smugglers and this observation:
Ms. Shinn explores the possibility of parallel worlds, a familiar trope, but takes a softer, more folklore-based approach (as opposed to a technical, science fiction route).
Kate at the Never Ending Shelf found this novel too slow. I believe that is a common complaint of Sharon Shinn’s work and one that never bothers me–I love the time that I spend in her worlds and am grateful to have leisurely visits.
Have you read this book? What did you think?