By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Red Thread Sisters
By Carol Antoinette Peacock
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2012
For six years, Wen has lived in an orphanage in rural China. She was left at the gate when she was only 5 and in all those years, the only person she considers family is her best friend, Shu Ling, the girl who befriended her the day she arrived.
When she turns 11, Wen is adopted by an American family and she moves to a suburb outside of Boston.
In her new home, she struggles with almost everything, from learning English and not having to worry about food or clothes, to making friends in her new school and just being a part of the family. On top of all that, Wen also works to keep her promise to Shu Ling in finding her an American family of her own.
“Red Thread Sisters” is a touching story about what it means to be a family. It doesn’t always mean the one you’re born into. Sometimes it can just be circumstance and chance that brings your family into your life.
Peacock does a great job showing the struggles an older adoptee goes through with their new family. Wen tries to hide food for fear of going hungry, is continuously on her best behavior to make sure she won’t be sent back, and has a hard time calling her new mother “mom.” The young girl has also not forgotten Shu Ling back in China and does everything she can to help her friend, even at the expense of the new friendships and relationships she has built in her new home.
Peacock, a mother of two adopted Chinese daughters herself, also gives readers a glimpse into the adoption process and some of the hoops and red tape parents have to jump and wade through to bring their children home.
This is a story about the power of perseverance and how anyone can make a difference no matter how young.
For Today I am a Boy
By Kim Fu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
When he was born, Peter Huang was given the Chinese name Juan Chaun, meaning “powerful king.” A strong name for the only son in a family of all girls. His immigrant father has pinned all of his hopes and dreams of Western masculinity on him, but Peter knows there is no hope. While he may have been born a boy, Peter knows he is really a girl.
Growing up in their medium-sized town in Ontario, Canada, Peter endures bullying at the hands of his classmates, as well as the pressures at home to be someone he is not — in more ways than one. Some of this goes away as Peter gets older and becomes an adult, but he continues to struggle with his gender identity, not knowing what is “wrong” with him.
But through it all, his sisters are there for him, from their time as children living in a home of order and obligation, to when they all become adults living disparately different lives in multiple time zones. No matter what, no matter how close or distant they may be — both geographically and relationally — Peter’s sisters are there for him and accept him for who he is.
Much of “Boy” focuses on Peter’s struggles with his gender and Fu gives readers a glimpse of how it could be for a transgender person, as they work to come to terms with their identity. From the biological and anatomic, to the cultural and relational, there are many obstacles an individual faces and Fu shows one example of how that might manifest.
“Boy” is also the story about a family who may not overtly show support for each other, but will come through for each other when it really matters. The Huangs may not see eye to eye on everything and they may go months, if not years, without contact, but it is clear that family is still important to them and essential.
By Cecily Wong
At the turn of the 19th century, Frank Leong moves his family from China to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. A wealthy shipping industrialist, Frank is able to afford his family many things, including a mansion with servants and fancy cars.
But what nobody realizes is that in addition to the family, the parable of a red string of fate has woven its way to Hawaii along with them. This cord binds an individual to his or her perfect match, but also punishes them for their mistakes in love, passing the misfortune — or knot — down the family line.
When Frank is murdered, the knots in the red string manifest and the Leong family immediately learns that theirs is no longer a charmed life.
“Diamond Head” tells the Leong family’s story, as they work to get past the downward spiral their patriarch left after his death. Some are able pick themselves up and even thrive (while trying hard to forget and bury secrets), while others are not.
The story is told through the eyes of the family’s women — the daughters and wives who have endured throughout the years, surviving wartime from the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and beyond.
This is a story about family and love. Throughout all of their struggles, we see the Leongs come together and be there for each other, taking care of each other as best they can. Each character is complex and multifaceted with more to them than meets the eye. With each page, Wong reveals a little more about them that explains why they did what they did.
Readers will be rooting for the Leongs, even the most flawed members of the family, to come through everything as unscathed as possible.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.