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Chu Ju's House    by Gloria Whelan order for
Chu Ju's House
by Gloria Whelan
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The tale opens on 'Tomb Sweeping Day', when narrator Chu Ju remembers her grandfather, 'Ye Ye', who was kind to her, unlike her grandmother 'who could only see that I was not a son'. Chu Ju's mother is pregnant again, and soon has another daughter, not the longed for son. Chu Ju looks after, and loves, her baby sister Hua, who seems 'like a seedling that pushes up from the ground, bending this way and that until it gains more growth and can stand firm against the wind.'

When she learns that her family, against her mother's objections, are planning to sell the baby to an orphanage, Chu Ju takes a very brave decision. She leaves her home, to make a place there for her baby sister. Chu Ju joins a fishing boat for a while, helping the mother who has longed for a daughter but has two sons. She learns to weave nets and gut fish. Chu Ju works with silkworms until she gets into trouble for helping others, and has to move on. Then she finds a permanent place after helping a woman, Han Na, who is working in a rice paddy.

Han Na's dissatisfied son Quan seizes the opportunity provided by the arrival of a helper for his mother, to leave for the city. Chu Ju learns how to grow rice, and to raise fish in the paddy. She grows fond of Han Na, and also of Ling, a neighbor's son who reads agricultural pamphlets as well as forbidden books. Chu Ju is faced with a dilemma, when Quan needs help and demands that she travel secretly to Shanghai. Again, she is brave and does what is right, to her personal cost. There are brushes with the police, and a further act of great daring.

Chu Ju's House is an engaging coming of age story, starring a young woman with great compassion and integrity, set in modern China. Chu Ju's travels show us much of that great country, both positive and negative aspects, and the book's ending is very satisfying.

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