This is the third book I read for the Reading Rush this year, and one I bought 90% because of the beautiful cover. But I was surprised how much I loved this book, as it was nothing like I was expecting it to be.
Page Count: 391
Synopsis: Mercy Wong is an enterprising fifteen-year-old living in 1906, San Francisco who is determined be succeed where few among the Chinese immigrants can. After she bribes her way into the elite St. Clare’s School for Girls, she finds herself struggling to fit among her entirely white classmates. But all their lives change when a horrific earthquake shakes the city of San Francisco, and they must rely on each other to survive.
(Mostly) Spoiler-Free Review
I loved this book, and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. There is this perfect balance between seriousness and humor, sadness and hope. While it tackles the really serious topics of racism, grief, and poverty, it is not a hopeless tale, but one of happiness and success in the face of oppression and hopelessness. It is a rare thing, I find, for a book to achieve such a perfect balance between strife and victory, and this book does it perfectly while still including common tropes found in YA fiction like friendships and romance.
The first half of the book follows Mercy as she attempts to get into the school and getting used to the life at the fancy school where none of the girls like her at first. The second half begins with the earthquake, and shows how the girls survive and thrive in the next few days. Despite the book handling almost two different plots in the two halves, it seamlessly weaves them into one narrative with overarching themes and subplots that build on each other.
The characters were by far the best part of the book. From Mercy’s main frenemy Eloise to the pompous Headmistress Crouch who was harsh but also awesome, most of the characters were likable despite their imperfections. Eloise is horrible to Mercy in the beginning, but later on we learn of the neglect she experienced from her father and her kindness deep down in her apparently cold heart. The only character I would have liked to learn more about is Tom, Mercy’s love interest and her closest friend growing up in Chinatown. Besides his love of building things like balloons and his interest in Mercy, we don’t learn that much about him as a person. But with how little time we spend with him, I understand it’s hard to develop every character fully.
Despite the book being nearly 400 pages, it feels much shorter and was a surprisingly easy read. I read this during the Reading Rush, starting it one day and finishing it the next, and all together it probably took me six hours to read total, and I’m not the quickest reader. I just could not put it down after I picked it up.
I liked how the story brought in the discrimination the Chinese people received from the government (like ridiculous taxes and horrible schools, similar to the treatment the blacks received under segregation). It was interesting to see in general how mistrustful people were of “the other.” Like many people distrusting Irish and Italians, or the Chinese not trusting white businessmen trying to bring their businesses into Chinatown. It was interesting to see the dynamics of how so many people stuck to their own community and distrusted any other, but due to the horrible earthquake we see people of all different groups come together for survival. It was kind of beautiful to read.
As you might have guessed from my review, I really enjoyed this book and I can easily recommend it for everyone to read. Despite its serious concepts, it handles it in a sweet and hopeful manner.
Have you heard of this book? Does it look interesting to you? And how is your reading for the Reading Rush going, if you are competing? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,