Set in 1906, this book focuses on teenage girl Mercy Wong, who lives in Chinatown San Fransisco. She is determined to start her own business, work her way out of the poverty she lives in and provide hope for her family. Her first step to achieving this is to attend St Clare’s School for Girls; however when just getting accepted to the school was a huge challenge, considering the prejudices against Chinese at that time in America, how would Mercy stand her ground until she graduates in 3 years time? But then a huge disaster changes everything and, with the help of her classmates, in a time of trouble Mercy manages to bring everyone together and make people remember what is truly important when so much has been lost.
Mercy was just such a strong inspirational character. Despite all of the unjustifiable negativity towards her, she didn’t let anything faze her or let her lose sight of her hopes. There were so many obstacles thrown her way, solely because of her race, but she managed to overcome them and take everything in her stride, proving herself and even making people reconsider their judgements of her. However, she wasn’t annoyingly perfect, as she had her faults and also we saw her thought-track and how she was able to come to certain decisions and keep going. She was just a brilliant character, a highlight of the book.
The book was really well written, and I like how Chinese proverbs were interwoven throughout the book at relevant points, as well as subtle mentions of the title. The writing just flowed really well, it didn’t distract from what was going on, but was noticeable when it should be and complimented the story perfectly. Overall, it led to the book being easy to read and addictive, but still substantial.
There were lots of moral themes within the book which I felt worked well. Of course there is the obvious: how hard life was for the Chinese, and other minorities, living in San Fransisco at the time, and how little opportunity there was for young people especially, who were trying to find their way in the world and trying to achieve their dreams and somehow drag themselves and their families from the bottom of the class system. But also their was the theme of how, when reduced to life and death, everyone is brought to the same level, whatever their class or race. As well as this, when put in certain circumstances, people are reminded of what truly matters to them. I think having a certain event happen in the book was a good plot device to be able to teach the reader these messages, and I think the themes were managed very well and very sensitively.
Another character that was surprising and went through development was Elodie. I don’t want to spoil anything, but lets just say she was more than I expected. In the first few chapters I was quite disappointed that there was such a cliche, mean girl kind of character, but she turned out to be more realistic and well rounded than that, and I was glad. In fact, all the secondary characters turned out to be more in depth than they were first shown to be. I especially liked Katie, Francesca and Harry and of course Tom. Thats not to say that every character was as realistic and three dimensional as these. There were a few girls at the school that weren’t as realistic, but the whole being able to tell aspects of people’s personality from their faces worked well in giving some of these characters a bit more depth, that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I only really have one small criticism, and that is that some of the plot was quite predictable. This wasn’t really a problem, as other features of the book more than made up for it, but I still found myself surprised at points as to how easy it was to guess some parts.
To summarise, this is definitely a book that people should read, because it sends some vital messages about what matters in this world, and the power of events to change our outlooks on life. The characters really brought it to life, especially Mercy, who was an inspiration to us all, and who we could all learn something from about how to live your life. Yes, the plot was slightly predictable, but this didn’t detract too much from the book, and doesn’t prevent it from getting 5 stars from me.