This is a work of YA contemporary fiction. Daniel is a seventeen-year-old Korean-American poet who, against his traditional parents’ wishes, does not want to attend Yale or become a doctor. Natasha is a science-minded undocumented immigrant from Jamaica who’s been living in New York City since age 9, but is about to be deported that night. A series of coincidences and serendipitous events continuously bring Natasha and Daniel together throughout the day. Daniel knew from first sight that she was “the One,” but Natasha doesn’t believe in love or fate. Daniel believes he can use science to get Natasha to fall in love with him. In spite of herself, she does, over the course of one day. But her deportation is the doom looming over both of them.
I loved the first half of this book. Daniel’s and Natasha’s family histories, respectively, were fascinating. I enjoyed learning about Korean-American and Jamaican-American cultures. I also found it very creative that the author wrote some chapters in first person, some in third person, and some not from any character’s perspective at all, but presenting a history or a future. I’ve never read a book written in this way before. However, after 50%, it became overwritten. The plot began to contain too many coincidences and drastic changes to Natasha’s character and outlook (all in the scope of one day) to remain believable.
*SPOILER ALERT* In the end, what disappointed me was that Daniel’s and Natasha’s lives were both ruined because her immigration lawyer cheated on his wife with his paralegal that afternoon, and therefore didn’t get to the court in time to help Natasha. And we’re all supposed to be okay with that. It’s mentioned briefly, in passing, how this lawyer’s life decisions screws up his children, but no mention of the poor wife whom he betrays. As for the paralegal? Her story ends with “And They Lived Happily Ever After.” No guilt, no remorse, no repercussions for wrecking an entire family. If the whole subplot with the lawyer and his paralegal had been removed from this book, then it could’ve had a more creative and satisfying ending.
When I picked up Shanghai Girls, I was hooked ’til the last page. Lisa See’s writing is difficult to put down. The story of the two sisters, Pearl and May, begins in 1930s Shanghai. The girls earn their money posing as Chinese calendar models, or “Beautiful Girls,” and live a life of luxury, parties, night clubs, and excessive shopping and clothes-buying. But their world falls apart when they discover that their father owes money to a notorious gang. For payment, he’s arranged for both of his daughters to be married to strangers, and shipped abroad to their new husbands in San Francisco. The girls try to resist their fate, but are forced to flee their home once the Japanese start bombing the harbor of Shanghai.
Author See makes a point of expounding upon the girls’ privileged upbringing in the beginning, which draws a sharp contrast to what they soon meet, in the face of war and emigration. To make matters worse, May becomes pregnant, and not by her new husband. This in itself is a devastating secret the sisters must keep. It’s all May can do to pass the child off as her sister Pearl’s, and lose herself in a Hollywood career. But even more painful is the dynamic between the sisters and their shared daughter, Joy. Meanwhile, they and their in-laws also face the constant threat of deportation, as they’re not in the U.S. legally.
There are a good deal of heavy themes and graphic descriptions in this book, dealing with all manner of content from rape to suicide. Like Lisa See’s previous works, Shanghai Girls is heartbreaking yet culturally fascinating, featuring sympathetic characters with complex lives.
In this beautiful yet doleful tale, we follow Angela Denoto, a Sicilian-born teen at the turn-of-the-century in New York City. Although Angela is bright and the only member of her family who can read, as well as speak and write in English, her father’s physical condition requires her and her elder sister, Luisa, to work in his stead. As Angela begins her job at a shirtwaist factory, she experiences the awful, unfair, and even dangerous working conditions, including workers having to pay for their own needles and thread, their bosses prohibiting them from stopping and stretching or resting even after injury, seventy-two hour work weeks without overtime pay, dangerous fire and health hazards, and more.
Soon, Angela befriends fellow seamstress Sarah Goldstein, a “fiery” Jewish girl who is involved in the women’s labor union. Sarah soon coaxes Angela into various union activities and a strike, in order to fight for better working conditions for the women factory workers. Angela’s striking from work does not come without a high cost, however, as her family struggles without her pay. The author does a good job of describing both the miserable working conditions and the need for unionizing, as well as the girls’ and their families’ need to work to eat and survive, despite the terrible conditions. This book closes with the fatal events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, which, coupled with other significant deaths in this book, adds to its melancholy overtone.
A sad story devoid of really any cheer, and rather bare-bones at times in terms of character development, but poignant and emotional nonetheless.