Trigger warning: descriptions of infanticide
I think that if Lisa See had cut down on some of the historical elements and developed her characters more I would have liked this. I do think that part of the problem was the overly abundant coincidences in this book. And I also think that the ending was written before the beginning. One of my professors used to tell us when we are writing, to not be so focused on the ending, but on the beginning and the middle. The ending was a great gut punch, the middle and ending of this book, not so much.
See focuses on the Akha people (the Akha are an indigenous hill tribe who live in small villages at higher elevations in the mountains of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Yunnan Province in China). I bring that up, cause a casual reader may be confused by this (as I was at parts). I felt I had to do a lot of look up words/research while reading this book which I just wasn't in the mind-set to deal with at this time.
The main character is Li-yan (FYI I had to go and look that up since her real name is mentioned only maybe twice in the book, she is referred to as Girl [a good 50 plus percent of the book] or Tina [eh maybe 10 percent of the book] throughout the book.
Li-yan is the daughter of the village midwife and is expected to marry well and become a midwife as well. Her life changes though after a strange dream and then meets a young boy at the market.
Li-yan starts to see her people as backwards due to their traditions (parts of this story are very grim so be careful with reading this one). Li-yan realizes that she doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps and is going to do what she can to get placed in secondary and third schooling so she can be someone outside of her village. She also dreams of marrying a young boy from her school and having lots of children with him.
Li-yan's life gets off course though when she has a baby out of wedlock which means the baby should be put to death when born (not a spoiler, in synopsis) when Li-yan goes against tradition, she finds herself living a life outside of her village.
The writing is just okay. I think that other reviewers have noted that there is a lot of historical information in this one and there is. I think that See decided to do what she did with her "Shanghai Girls" books and decided to have a book that covers a lot of historical events. It just loses something I think in this telling when you have a character remarking on something that I don't think in the moment they would find to be momentous.
Also, I have to say, that for how "backwards" the village where Li-yan is shown and their traditions, I had a hard time believing these same people would so willingly part with them.
I also hope you like reading about tea, cause this book includes every little detail about them and I got bored. I love tea! I just don't want to read pages upon pages about how it is picked, smelled, how it should be brewed, etc.
I think that the book starts off pretty slow. We begin with Li-yan relaying a dream to her family and going tea picking. You don't get a good idea of what is even going on for a good 15-20 percent of the story. See jumps around a lot (enjoy that) and goes into
Li-yan's family, her best friend's family and some (not all) of the villagers. We get historical dumps (that is what I am calling them) throughout the story by Li-yan or other characters. Nothing quite gels together.
I think for me, the moment when I totally lost interest was when Li-yan realizes the man she gave up a lot for is not what she thought. I just had a hard time buying her realization considering she ignored everyone that tried to tell her about him before.
I also hate how we jump over things that I think would have been interesting.
The book jumps back and forth between Li-yan and her daughter. I think the book would have been stronger if both POVs would have been told in the first person. Instead we get first person POV from Li-yan and just excerpts from Li-yan's daughter via her mother, teachers, and even therapist at one point. I never got a chance to know her and I really didn't feel drawn to her as a character.
After the 25th coincidence (kidding, but not really) the book ends.