A gem from start to bittersweet finish.

LUCK OF THE TITANIC

Seventeen-year-old Valora Luck boards the Titanic in search of her twin brother—and destiny.

As children, Val and Jamie performed acrobatics to bring in money during lean times, dreaming of one day becoming circus stars. But after their White British mother’s death, Jamie left to work for the Atlantic Steam Company while Val stayed in London to care for their Chinese father. Now, with both parents gone, Val is determined to find what’s left of her family and forge a new path in America. There is, of course, the Chinese Exclusion Act to contend with, but Val is confident that she and Jamie can convince one of the ship’s passengers, a part owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus, to hire them and bring them into the country. Unexpected allies provide help along the way, including an American couture designer and Jamie’s fellow Chinese steamship workers. Issues of racial and class discrimination are seamlessly woven into the story as Val’s adventure takes her through the Titanic’s various decks, from a first-class suite to the boiler rooms. Her wit and pluck give the story such buoyancy that when tragedy strikes, it almost comes as a surprise. Anticipation of the inevitable adds a layer of tension to the narrative, especially with a sober note prefacing the book that informs readers, “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.”

A gem from start to bittersweet finish. (Titanic diagram, list of characters, author's notes) (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4098-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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An optimistic, sophisticated portrayal of one facet of Chinese American—and simply American—history.

THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL

Jo Kuan leads a double life: a public role as a quiet lady’s maid and a secret one as the voice behind the hottest advice column in 1890 Atlanta.

Chinese American Jo is mostly invisible except for occasional looks of disdain and derisive comments, and she doesn’t mind: Her priority is making sure she and her adoptive father, Chinese immigrant Old Gin, remain safe in their abandoned abolitionists’ hideaway beneath a print shop. But even if she lives on the margins, Jo has opinions of her own which she shares in her newspaper advice column under the byline “Miss Sweetie.” Suddenly all of Atlanta is talking about her ideas, though they don’t know that the witty advice on relationships, millinery, and horse races comes from a Chinese girl. As curiosity about Miss Sweetie mounts, Jo may not be able to stay hidden much longer. And as she learns more about the blurred lines and the hard truths about race in her city and her own past, maybe she doesn’t want to. In her latest work, Lee (The Secret of a Heart Note, 2016, etc.) continues to demonstrate that Chinese people were present—and had a voice—in American history. She deftly weaves historical details with Jo’s personal story of finding a voice and a place for herself in order to create a single, luminous work.

An optimistic, sophisticated portrayal of one facet of Chinese American—and simply American—history. (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4095-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Both a poignant contemplation on 9/11 and a necessary intervention in this current political climate.

ALL WE HAVE LEFT

This election cycle, with its exacerbated Islamophobia, makes author Mills' (Positively Beautiful, 2015) fictive meditation on 9/11 and the 15 years after especially timely.

The book opens with Travis McLaurin, a 19-year-old white man trying to protect Alia Susanto, a 16-year-old hijab-wearing Indonesian-American Muslim, from the debris caused by the South Tower's destruction. The next chapter takes place 15 years later, with Travis' younger sister, Jesse, defacing a building with an Islamophobic slogan before the police catch her. The building, readers learn later, is the Islam Peace Center, where Jesse must do her community service for her crime. Between these plot points, the author elegantly transitions between the gripping descriptions of Alia and Travis trying to survive and Jesse almost falling into the abyss of generational hatred of Islam. In doing so, she artfully educates readers on both the aspects of Islam used as hateful stereotypes and the ruinous effects of Islamophobia. With almost poetic language, the author compassionately renders both the realistic lives, loves, passions, and struggles of Alia ("There's a galaxy between us, hung thick with stars of hurt and disappointment) and Jesse ("I'm caught in a tornado filled with the jagged pieces of my life") as both deal with the fallout of that tragic day.

Both a poignant contemplation on 9/11 and a necessary intervention in this current political climate. (timeline, author's note) (Fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61963-343-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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