(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Mercy Wong wants more than the life of poverty and prejudice she's living in San Francisco's Chinatown. The 15-year-old longs to be a great businesswoman with enough money to elevate her family above its lowly station. She has the smarts for it as well as the ambition. But this is 1906 and Chinese people are not exactly welcome in California's hallowed halls of learning. It will take more than intelligence to get Mercy where she wants to be.
With a lot of pluck (and a little bribery), she lands herself a place at a posh boarding school for wealthy white girls. Pretending to be an exotic heiress, she tries desperately to keep her real identity a secret from her snooty classmates. When disaster strikes San Francisco, Mercy sees her bright future crumbling before her eyes. In a city now dominated by chaos and catastrophe, how will a penniless Chinese girl survive? As Mercy launches a desperate search for her missing family, she'll find the one person who is truly lost—herself.
Under a Painted Sky—Stacey Lee's debut novel—impressed me with its compelling mixture of history, adventure and romance as well as its engaging prose and appealing characters. Because I enjoyed her freshman endeavor so much, I eagerly picked up Lee's sophomore effort. And I was not disappointed. Not at all. Once again, Lee has created a plucky Chinese-American heroine whose courage and compassion make her both likable and admirable. The novel's plot moves forward at a fast clip, making it as engrossing as it is entertaining. Although the story focuses more on relationships between the characters than on the great earthquake, it's still an exciting tale that's also vivid, fun, and hopeful. Having thoroughly enjoyed both of Lee's novels, I'm eagerly awaiting her newest, The Secret of a Heart Note, which comes out in a few weeks.
(Readalikes: Reminds me of Dear America: A City Tossed and Broken by Judy Blundell; The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman; and a little of Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco mystery novels [No Comfort for the Lost; No Pity for the Dead])
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: Another library