Shanghai Girls is a story about the relationship between two young, upper-class sisters living in Shanghai. They are forced to come to the US. Their changing world has multiple high-impact effects on their relationship.
Lisa See, the author, intrigued me with the story since it brought details of the China/US situation which I knew very little. For example, even though I’d been to San Francisco a number of times, I never knew Chinese were detained at Angel Island (for months at a time) before being allowed to enter the US.
Also, reading about the Chinese people living in 1950’s America was interesting. Although I’m sure it is not a 100 percent historical representation, it gave me a sense of how things probably were then.
Those things about the book I really loved.
What I didn’t love was the relationship between the sisters, Pearl and May. They were so close but could barely communicate. The story is told from the point of view of Pearl, the older sister. Even though I didn’t love her (or her ways of doing certain things) I wanted to root for her. I wanted to believe how ungrateful her younger sister was. I was all in with Pearl.
Then, toward the end of the book, after forty years (and 300+ pages) they finally let it all out. Aired all their differences. May, the younger sister made some good arguments as to why she wasn’t the ungrateful one, it was Pearl who was ungrateful. Arguments that made me question everything I’d read. Arguments that made me mad I was even routing for the older sister.
I didn’t love this. I was mad at myself for buying into Pearl. And, I was mad at See for leading me there. I want to love my heroine. I want her to be great. Why? Because I read it as if I am her. I put myself in her shoes and I don’t want to believe I’d overlook such obvious feelings of my very best friend and sister.
See did this same thing in her other book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And, I felt the same way then. I should have learned the first time, right? I should have been on the lookout for it. But I didn’t and I wasn’t, which makes me even more mad. Maybe I’m overlooking these things in my own life. Maybe I think I’ve learned lessons from the past but really I haven’t.
Am I reading too much into it? Probably, but isn’t that what a good book is supposed to do? Make you think. Make you think about your own world and how you could make it better. Well, that’s what think it’s about and that’s why I love reading.
On another note, the end of the book is a cliff hanger and the sequel, Dreams of Joy, is due out May 31, 2011. If you haven’t read Shanghai Girls yet be sure to get both at the same time because it’s just not an ending the way it is now. More closure is certainly needed.
Did you read this book? What did you think? I’d love to know if you had the same take as me or something completely different.
***Here’s my rating system:
- Skip, unless you need to catch up on your sleep.
- Give it a go, it could have been better but worth a look.
- Read, you’ll be glad you did.
- Start now, and find some caffeine since you won’t want to put it down.