Harcourt, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Lyn Seippel
ourteen-year-old Jessie lives in an upper class home with Chinese servants, whom she considers her friends. Her gentle mother is kind to her servants and throws herself into charities that benefit the needy, but never works in direct contact with them. Though Jessie often finds herself at cross-proposes with her father, she's always respected him. He is a prominent San Francisco physician and Jessie stubbornly intends to follow in his footsteps although he disdains her ambition.
essie discovers her father is having an affair with their young housemaid, and is crushed. Mei is only a couple of years older than she is. When Mei mysteriously disappears, Jessie is certain she is pregnant and goes looking for her in Chinatown. She accidentally stumbles into an opium den where she is attacked and robbed. When she is brought home by a policeman, her father threatens to send her to boarding school if she ever goes back to Chinatown.
essie doesn't forget Mei or the child she is carrying, but she knows she'll never find her in Chinatown if Mei chooses not to be found. Then the great earthquake of 1906 strikes and Chinatown is destroyed, sending the Chinese immigrants to refugee camps on the military bases. Jessie knows this may be her last opportunity to find Mei and her baby. Her search is set against an exciting backdrop of fires and aftershocks caused by the earthquake. Government corruption and callous indifference to the destruction of Chinatown leave the Chinese refugees without homes or medical care.
, William Lavender tells a powerful story of Jessie's love for her family and her Chinese friends in turn-of-the-century San Francisco - without preaching, or glossing over the blatant intolerance and brutal discrimination faced by the Chinese.
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