The Life and Works of Laurence Yep
The Lost Garden by Laurence Yep. Morrow Beech Tree Books, 1996. have enjoyed many historical novels by Yep, and this book filled me in on some of the background of those novels. Most of the book deals with Yep’s search for identity as a Chinese-American who was too American to fit in with the Chinese and too Chinese to fit in anywhere else. Since Yep is of my generation, I learned a bit of what it was like to grow up during my lifetime as Chinese in San Francisco as the child of a store owner in a changing neighborhood.
The first part of the book dealt with family background, life working in the family store, family relationships, and childhood memories of places. These were all interesting. But toward the end of the book as Yep moved into his experiences in high school and college, the book becomes quite humorous. I especially enjoyed his tales of various chemistry teachers and their experiments, mistakes, and disciplinary measures, as well as the pranks he inspired his students to perform (unintentionally.) BTH-5091
Dragon’s Gate, HarperCollins, 1975. Part of the Golden Mountain Chronicles. When he accidentally kills a Manchu, Otter, a Chinese boy, is sent to America to join his father, an uncle, and other Chinese who are working to build a tunnel for the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1867.
Otter had been resentful when his father had told him to stay at home at first when he has wanted to go with them. But his mother applied pressure to keep him at home to help her. When Otter killed the Manchu he had to leave the country, so his mother sent him away to save his life.
Had Otter known what awaited him, he probably would not have gone. In China his family was upper class and respected and admired by all their neighbors. His father and uncle were treated almost like kings. In California, in the camp with other Chinese railroad workers, he was treated like a slave — right up to being whipped when he upset his bosses. He would have done anything to escape by then.
In the process of working along side his father and uncle who have no standing or power to protect him in the camp, he gets to know them in a way he never could at home. He matures through his humiliating experiences, and risks his life to save the camp in order to be able to go home. I won’t tell you anymore.
I do recommend the book to anyone who wants to know what the Chinese went through in building the transcontinental railroad. Their bosses weren’t as humane as many slave owners in the South. Readers will also learn more about the Chinese culture back in China at the time. This is a Newbery Honor Book.
For ages 10 and up. 331 pages. BTH-2730
Ribbons. Putnam Grosset, 1997. Eleven-year-old Robin resents having to give up her beloved ballet lessons. Her family needs to use the money those lessons cost to bring Robin’s grandmother over from China to live with their family in San Francisco. In this sensitively written book, Yep explores the cultural differences between the older generation of Chinese who were born in China and the younger, their grandchildren, who were born and raised in America. In between are the parents caught in the middle, trying their best to care for their parents and also meet the needs of their own American born children. As time passes and Robin discovers the pain her grandmother has suffered from having her feet bound, the two begin to understand and become more friendly toward each other. For ages 8-12. BTH-2786 For a more comprehensive review see my Bookworm Buffet Blog post on Books for Aspiring Young Ballerinas.
The Star Fisher, Penguin, 1992. Laurence Yep often writes about the friction that happens in Chinese American families when the parents were born overseas and the children were born in the United States. Whereas the family bond is still strong between parents and children, the parents are often less flexible in adapting to a more casual and less structured American lifestyle than their children, and the children often get impatient with the Chinese” old ways'” that their parents cling to.
This friction surfaces again in Star Fisher, set in Clarksburg, Ohio, in 1927, as Joan Lee adapts to being part of the first Chinese family to live in this town. Her parents have decided to open a Chinese laundry, but there is much prejudice against them at first, and they are reluctant to allow others to help them. Finally the persistence of a caring landlady in finding a way to help while letting the Lee family “save face” paves the way for the Lees to become a real part of the community, and a pie social at a local church plays an important part in helping the community view the Lees as people worth getting to know. This book should have a place in unit studies that deal with immigration, racial prejudice, and friendship across social and cultural barriers For ages 10-14. 150 pages. BTH-2787