Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jie Jie! The Year of the Three Sisters by Andrea Cheng

In the middle of the night I hear a sound. It is Fan, trying to muffle her sobs in the pillow.

"Are you worried about your grandfather?" I whisper.

Fan looks at me in the dark. "Grandfather and Mama and.... Everything. And you and Andee."

She takes a deep breath. "Andee is your friend. And now you fight. It is my fault. Andee is not happy with me. I come to America for success. Not for fun. Andee is not patient."

"If she was patient, you would not be in America," I said.

When Andee and Anna visit their pen pal in China, they find that Fan has had to stop school and work as a hotel waitress to help support her migrant family in the city. Andee instantly decides that Fan should come to school in America for a year to gain the fluency in English that will open up opportunities for a better job in the hotel.

Andee's mother arranges everything, but when Fan arrives and moves in with Andee's family, Anna can see that things are not working out between her two friends. Andee is impetuous and talks too fast, and Fan refuses to join in family fun, constantly studying by herself with her door closed. Anna tries to help, but for once Andee won't talk to her, and Fan is stubborn and unwilling to change. The dream of a year of the three sisters isn't coming true for them.

But when Fan's beloved grandfather dies, in her grief she opens up to her American sisters, confessing how lonely and homesick she is, how strange she feels in Andee's big house and in her big high school, so different from her life at home. Even Andee listens, and the empathetic Anna reveals that she is lonely in middle school, too, with Andee now at high school. Andee confesses that even she feels alone, too, in her new school. The three girls see that they are all in new situations that make them feel isolated, but that their distance from each other is also a cause of their loneliness.

Andrea Cheng's fourth book in her Anna Wang series, The Year of the Three Sisters (An Anna Wang novel) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), shows best friends Anna and Andee moving into adolescence and experiencing the changes that time has brought to their relationship, and when they think about how many more changes Fan is going through, they find a way to make their friendship grow strong again. Author Cheng reveals the feelings of her characters skillfully in their own thoughts and words, a technique that helps readers interpret the emotions that come with changes. Most young adolescents feel like "strangers in a strange land" at times, that sense of living in two different worlds that children of immigrants feel in spades, and Cheng's novels provide a window into that world. "Cultural details are woven skillfully throughout, while [Patrice] Barton's comely illustrations add to the overall appeal. Another winner!" says School Library Journal.

Earlier books in this series are The Year of the Baby (An Anna Wang novel), The Year of the Book (An Anna Wang novel), and The Year of the Fortune Cookie (An Anna Wang novel).

For stories of slightly younger Chinese-American protagonists, there are also Newbery author Grace Lin's notable Pacy Lin books. (See reviews here.)

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