My roommate recently lent me Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. I finished it at the beginning of the week. Reading the book was an emotional experience. But before we get to my recommendations here’s a look into See’s novel.
by Lisa See
(a mini book review)
Mini-synopsis: Pearl and May are sisters living the life of carefree modernity in 1937 Shanghai. They are two of the City’s ‘Beautiful Girls,’ going against tradition, relying on their father’s wealth. Until one day they learn that their father has gambled away all of their money. As Japanese bombs fall onto their city, the two sisters embark on a journey that neither are prepared for. This is a story about strength, sisterhood, and identity.
I find it more difficult than usual to write a review without giving too much of the story away, as my main critique lies in the end of See’s novel (so, if you read it, let’s chat–there are no spoilers in this review). See writes in a compelling narrative voice, keeping readers in the mind of her heroine, Pearl. We see what Pearl sees. I appreciate this point of view because it allows readers to get into the mind of a single character–adhering to all of their strengths and flaws in an intimate way.
See uses strong descriptions to paint out the physical scene of her characters. Although I have never been to the places described, I distinctly felt a sense of the places May and Pearl inhabit. I always appreciate this skill in authors, specifically in historically placed pieces.
Because this novel takes place over an extended period of time, readers are allowed to grow with the characters–an interesting experience given the multitude of mindset-changes that take place.
Overall, I recommend this novel. While it is sometimes graphic, and always highly emotional, See writes in a way that does not evoke pity but allows readers to have a glimpse of a life outside of their own. You gain a sense of deep appreciation for having heard their story, however fictional it may be. The end left me shocked and wanting more from See (please, if you do give this novel a try–let me know what you think of this ending!). It took me a few days to soak up Pearl and May’s journey, and honestly I’m still attempting to make peace with the ending. But isn’t that what a good novel does? It leaves you wanting more–more importantly it leaves you thinking.