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Date read: 12.16.10
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is as much a joy to hold (literally – it’s the nicest size for a hardback) and look at as it is to read:

The insides are just as beautiful, with colored text and chapter headers, and more of Grace Lin’s ornate, exuberant, full-color illustrations scattered throughout, complementing her detailed, lively prose.

The story follows the adventures of Minli, a young girl who leaves her home in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain to seek out the Old Man in the Moon, and learn from him how to change her family’s unhappy fortune. On the way, she helps and is helped by a varied cast of characters with cleverly interwoven stories to tell, including a talking goldfish with ambitions, a flightless dragon, and an orphan boy who lives with a water buffalo.

Minli is sort of generically plucky and lovable, and occasionally the story’s sweetness borders on sappiness, but it’s all so clearly coming from a place of genuine caring that I can’t really complain. Lin’s attention to the grief of Minli’s parents after her disappearance is particularly striking and moving. Among children’s books, I can’t remember reading another Hero’s Journey that also gave page time to those left behind. Watching her parents (her mother in particular) come to their own realizations about their relationships with Minli, and then witnessing the family’s eventual reunion – again, just genuinely sweet, loving, and ultimately joyful.

All in all, I felt like I was being given a hug and a bowl of hot soup in book form. (It doesn’t hurt that Lin clearly enjoys describing details of food as much as she does fantastical scenes of red-silk bridges and monkey-infested peach groves.)

As always with really good YA, I wish I knew younger persons I could gift this to. Older readers looking for more books set in mythical China would do very well indeed to look up Barry Hughart’s rumbustious, madcap adventure-fantasy-mystery-everything-awesome series, The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, beginning with Bridge of Birds.

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Grace Lin: bio and works reviewed

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Date Read: 7.28.07
Book From: Borders Piracy
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Lily is born to a poor village family, but a prominent matchmaker notices Lily at a young age and informs her that her physical beauty may promise a prosperous marriage. To help the process, Lily is paired with a laotong (Chinese companion for life), Snow Flower, to increase her credibility and status. For their entire lives, Snow Flower and Lily share a deep friendship and endure their hardships and married life together.

Review

Back when I first reviewed this book, I wrote down “Good… awesome… but not mindblowing”. And it was exactly that. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is such an excellent book– great character development, writing, plot, historical references– but it is never one that I immediately think to recommend to people. It’s definitely a book that misses the wow factor, and as engaging as it is, fails to completely immerse the reader in the world. I found myself reacting very strongly to events in the book, but not coming away feeling attached.

Overall, many elements of the plot are a bit of a reach in that I think it was extremely unlikely that all of these fortunes would fall upon a common Chinese village girl. In this way, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan reminds me of Memoirs of a Geisha, another book that clearly knows its history and society’s makeup but reaches a bit too far to make an interesting and compelling story. However, if you focus on just the laotong relationship instead of how it came to be, it really is quite beautiful. Their dialogues really impress upon the reader the objectification, cruelty, and lack of purpose experienced by Chinese women.

It’s certainly a book to read if you are interested in historical chinese traditions. In particular, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan contained one of the most vivid accounts of footbinding I had ever read. See devotes an entire chapter to Lily’s hardships during her footbinding experience, underlining the layers of tensions between Lily and her family that accumulate because of this process. It is extremely instructive in the nature of the relationship between parent and child in older chinese cultures, as well as the female to society.

If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you will enjoy Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but prepare yourself for a different emotional journey.

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Lisa See

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