August 2007, Frances Lincoln
176 pages, Paperback
Themes: Life in China, country versus city life, farming, fishing, 2 child rule, neglect, deceit, solitude, friendships made and broken, forgiveness, tissues needed.
Summary from Frances Lincoln
When another girl is born to Chu Ju's mother, it is quickly determined that the baby must be sent away. Chinese law states that a family may have only two children, and tradition dictates that every family should have a boy. Fourteen-year-old Chu Ju knows she cannot allow her sister to be sent to an orphanage and so she sets out in the middle of the night, vowing never to return.
Chu Ju's story is an unusual one for HTAW. She doesn't get bought, sold or abused. She falls in love with her baby sister (in a sibling way, not in any other sense). As her primary carer, inevitably she forms a close bond with her. She is horrified of the thought of Hua getting taken to an orphanage. Chu Ju doesn't want her sister living a harsh life. So she runs away to spare her of this fate.
Her decision to leave her family shows just how deep her love was for Hua. And also for her mother - she misses her dearly. She meets a few people who treat her very kindly, but they can't replace what she's left behind. It's amazing how much she grows in the story. Not just physically - mentally too. She goes from being a girl with few skills, to learning how to fish, to grow and harvest rice. Her sweet personality endears her to those she meets. Unfortunately it is this characteristic that makes events turn for the worse. Every time she's content, she feels she has to tell the truth about her situation. Most people don't share her view on what she did, and they send her packing.
I nearly cried the final time this happened, because Chu Ju was so close to finding permanent contentment. Thankfully someone intervenes and the full story is told. I think that having gone through such physical and emotional hardship, Chu Ju will lead a happy, fulfilling life. All the more so because she does return to her family, and then decides whether to stay with them, or return to the home she's made for herself.
There were quite a few moments where my stomach dropped, but these were counterbalanced with all the occasions where I wanted to cheer. Chu Ju has an extraordinary life, but I could easily relate to her striving for a better future, and trying to do the right thing. I'd definitely recommend this to everyone Chu Ju has more courage and determination than some adults have. Her story is an inspiration to aim for the sky.
Check out all of Gloria's work on her website.
Another beautiful tale of a young girl's strength: The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim.