fulfilling book riot’s 2020 read harder challenge task #7: Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII
here is the blurb i wrote about this book for indie next, for those of you who like succinct praise and/or capital letters:
A powerful historical debut about two orphaned siblings coming of age during America’s Gold Rush. Born to parents who left China for better prospects (heh), the pair forge their individual identities—one craving adventure, the other stability, as they navigate a land hostile to otherness on their search for a place to call home.
now that that’s out of the way, lemme loosen my belt a little bit. this book is excellent. for me, it’s all about the characters; not only siblings sam and lucy, but also their parents, whose own stories emerge as the novel wends sinuously through the past and present, through lucy and sam’s experiences together and apart, through the mythic and the actual versions of the american dream.
a lot of it reads like a cormac mccarthy-style western, with morally conflicted characters and that perfect blend of incongruously lyrical prose and gritty coarseness. there’s plenty of prettily-described ick in this book, much of it centered around the siblings transporting their father’s deliquescing corpse through the desert to give him a proper burial, what’s left of his body shaped by the trunk as a stew is shaped by its pot. however, there’s a deep emotional undercurrent here; a coming-of-age identity narrative wrapped around a family saga about ambition and the immigrant experience, where adolescent characters struggle to carve their unique adult selves out from under the weight of the past with its layers of secrets and lies and memories, its burdens of sacrifice and love and duty.
sam and lucy are eleven and twelve years old when they become orphans. having already suffered the loss of their mother, the hardships of poverty, and the physical and emotional abuse of their bitter alcoholic father, they are now forced to make their way through a brutal landscape to find a new place to call home. all they have left in the world is each other, but although they begin their journey together, their paths soon diverge and they are left to reinvent themselves alone in a borrowed country where, as their parents discovered before them, race and gender are obstacles to achieving those promised-land dreams, and sometimes you gotta dig your own way in.
this review is coming out badly because my brain doesn’t work anymore, but don’t let my stolid gravy of run-on sentences deter you, the book itself is excellent; raw and lonely and powerful. it’s a beautiful story about a not-so-beautiful family who, like me—hell, like america itself—is deeply flawed but still trying.
review to come, but look! the ARC’s pages are GILDED!!!
how great is that?