In this sequel to Shanghai Girls, Lisa See tells the story of Joy, a 19 year old girl of Chinese heritage living in 1950's Los Angeles. (If you have not read Shanghai Girls, I strongly suggest that you do before reading this review. There will be spoilers!)
Joy, upset and furious with Pearl and May after learning the truth about her parentage and blaming herself for Sam's death, decides to go to China to find her birth father. She became enamoured of Communism and the New China while in college and feels that her place is there with her father. She impulsively leaves for China, leaving behind only a letter to let anyone know what she has done. Pearl decides to follow her in order to talk her into returning with her to California. The problem is that getting in to China is not especially difficult, getting out is nearly impossible.
Joy ends up on a commune in the country and learns that communism is not the ideal she thought it was. Pearl returns to her home city of Shanghai, to her old home, and finds that the city has changed drastically in the 20 years she has been gone. Pearl says:
Old Shanghai, my Shanghai, had plenty of sin on the surface but was shored up by the respectability of banking and mercantile wealth underneath. Now I see the so-called respectability of communism on the surface and decay underneath. They can sweep, strip, and cart away all they want, but there's no changing the fact that my home city is decomposing, rotting away, and turning into a skeleton.
Pearl tries to persuade Joy to return home but Joy is caught up in her new life. It isn't until a nationwide disaster occurs, a famine brought on by the ill-conceived policies of the communist regime, that Joy finally sees the reality of the New China.
What I like about the book: Too much to write about here! Mostly I loved the descriptions of China, especially the Chinese country life, as experienced by the peasants. Naturally, those who had the least control over their lives suffered the most for the idiocies of those in charge.
What I didn't like: I liked pretty much everything but I would have like to have more about the changing relationships- especially between Joy and Pearl, and Joy and Tao.
Was is clean? That depends. For adults, yes it was pretty clean however there were definitely some things that would not be appropriate for children or even younger teens. There is not any profanity, but some sex, and then just some situations that would be disturbing to most people, especially during the famine.