Last Monday, I gave my 25 cents about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa Lee. After reading that novel, which I really enjoyed, I decided to go ahead and keep with the China theme and read another See novel, Shanghai Girls: A Novel. This book, like most of See’s, is also a fictional story woven with historical references and set in China’s past, but it also expands to America as well as two sisters, Pearl and May, are forced to leave China during WWII and find themselves in Los Angele’s Chinatown in 1938.
The historical background included in the book is impressive, and this is obviously something the author uses in most of her work. If you look at some of the reviews of her other books, like Peony in Love, this historical weaving with narrative is her “thing,” and she does it well.
As far as this book goes, I can’t say I liked it as much as the first one I read, but it was a good read, just not a great read. Most of the storyline I found to be predictable, but unfortunately, that is something I find is the case for me when it comes to most contemporary fiction and one reason I tend to stick to the classics. Without giving away details of the book that would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it, let’s just say there were multiple times that an event or incident would happen in the book, and I would think, “oh, I bet x, y, z.” Then two or three chapters later, I’d discover that my assumptions were correct. Once or twice isn’t a big deal as many books will have predictable events, but it happened a little too much for me in Shanghai Girls.
Other than the historical backdrop, the other strength of this novel is characterization, especially when it comes to the sisters. Pearl is the oldest sister by just a few years and tells their story. May is her baby sister, BFF, and lifelong partner. It is a complex relationship, you want to know what happens to these women, and all kinds of stuff happens to them. The story reads pretty fast because a lot is going on.
Finally, my only other issue with this novel is that I felt a little let down with the ending. I almost wonder if this is supposed to be part one of a two part story. It does end, and many issues are resolved, but not all of them. There is more to Pearl and May’s story, and I felt a little cheated that I didn’t get it all.
If you have enjoyed any of Lisa See’s other novels (and it looks like she is pretty darn prolific), then I think this is a good summer read.