Tag: Vanessa Hua

A River of Stars

Cover image for A River of Stars by Vanessa Huaby Vanessa Hua

ISBN 9780399178788

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this title from the publisher at ALA Annual 2018.

He’d waited to book her stay until he knew she was having a boy, but objecting to such a preference would have been like objecting to gravity.”

When Scarlett Chen finds herself pregnant with her boss’s son—a married man decades her senior with three grown daughters—he ships her off to Perfume Bay, an underground American maternity hotel on the outskirts of Los Angeles, run by the shrewd and enterprising Mama Fang. A lifelong factory worker from the poor countryside, Scarlett is surrounded by rich, cliquey urban women who hope to ensure the best possible lives for their children by giving birth on American soil. The only other outsider is a Daisy, a pregnant Taiwanese teenager whose parents plan to pass off her baby as a younger sibling. When a new ultrasound upends the assumptions that landed Scarlett at Perfume Bay in the first place, she runs away with Daisy, who is desperate to find the missing boyfriend who fathered her child. Alone together in San Francisco’s Chinatown, they must figure out what their new lives will look like, even as they are pursued by Boss Yeung’s investigators.

While focused mainly on Scarlett, A River of Stars incorporates three narrative points of view, also including Mama Fang, the proprietor of the maternity hotel, and Boss Yeung, the father of Scarlett’s child. The additional perspectives are introduced after Scarlett runs away from Perfume Bay, adding the tension of pursuit to the story. Meanwhile, the main arc follows Scarlett and Daisy, and their newborns, into San Francisco’s Chinatown, showing that while an American birth certificate is supposedly a golden ticket to a better life, starting a new existence in a new country is far from easy. While Daisy has citizenship because she was born in the United States when her parents were grad students, Scarlett desperately searches for a way to fix her papers before her visa runs out. If she goes back to China, she knows that Boss Yeung will be able to take her baby, and that she may even be punished for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The novel is rich in the complexity of the many and various situations that bring Chinese immigrants to America, along with their own class backgrounds, cultural assumptions, and ideas about family.

Although A River of Stars incorporates three perspectives, there were some interesting characters that we do not get to hear from. Daisy is a character we see largely from Scarlett’s point of view, and her characterization is not always deep. Scarlett can muster little sympathy for Daisy’s hopefulness and romantic ideas, and so she often comes across as an entitled child when seen through Scarlett’s eyes. Daisy features rarely, if at all, in Mama Fang’s sections, and is largely unknown to Boss Yeung, except as a potential accomplice to Scarlett’s escape. While I found Mama Fang interesting, particularly as we learn about her background, I didn’t care much about Boss Yeung’s reflections on his behaviour, or his potential regrets as he simultaneously faces fatherhood and his own mortality. I was more interested in his eldest daughter, Viann, who risks being displaced by the birth of an illegitimate brother. I would have liked to see inside her perspective, particularly as her father begins to entertain suspicions about her paternity.

Point of view contributed significantly to my feeling at a remove from certain key characters, like Daisy. However, Hua’s writing style also played a role. It was not uncommon for her to choose to have Scarlett recounting or think about events after the fact, rather than portraying them in the moment. Often I would anticipate a significant event or upcoming confrontation, only to find that I was not going to get to see it actually play out, but would instead get to read about the aftermath.  We see this when Hua sums up what Daisy said or did during an argument with Scarlett, rather than actually writing the dialogue, for example. These choices left me feeling slightly disconnected from a story which I otherwise found thematically interesting and full of great potential.


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Fall 2018 Fiction Preview

Last month, I spent an extended weekend in New Orleans, attending the American Library Association’s annual conference. In addition to meeting up with colleagues, and attending workshops, I also hit up several book buzz sessions, and visited the various publishers in the exhibit hall. Disclaimer: the publishers were giving out ARCs of many of these titles, and I picked up copies where I could, but I haven’t had a chance to get down to reading most of them yet, so these are just a few of the titles I’m particularly excited to read in the coming months.

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

Cover image for A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua When Scarlett Chen falls in love with, and is impregnated by, her boss at a Chinese factory, the father of her child is elated to learn that he will finally have a son. Eager to secure every advantage for his long-awaited heir, he ships Scarlett off to a secret maternity hotel in Los Angeles, so that their son will be born with American citizenship. Scarlett doesn’t fit in with the upper-class women who can afford such a measure, and when a new sonogram leads to a startling revelation, she decides to steal a van, and disappear into Los Angeles’ bustling Chinatown. What she doesn’t expect is a stowaway, and an angry lover hot on her heels. River of Stars will be available from Penguin Random House August 14, 2018.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Cover image for Pride by Ibi ZoboiIf you love a good Pride and Prejudice remix, get ready for Pride, a  young adult  African-American retelling set in gentrifying Brooklyn. Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latina roots, but the Bushwick she once knew seems to be disappearing before her eyes. Her newest neighbours are the wealthy Darcy family, and while her sister Janae seems enamoured of their son Ainsley, Zuri wants nothing to do with his brother Darius. In the midst of family drama, and looming college applications, will Zuri and Darius be able to find common ground? Look for it from HarperCollins September 18, 2018.

Jack of Hearts by L. C. Rosen

Cover image for Jack of Hearts by L. C. Rosen Out and proud, it isn’t hard to convince Jack to write a sex advice column for his best friend Jenny’s website. But then the gossip mill starts churning, and soon Jack is receiving threatening notes from a mysterious stalker, who doesn’t like the fact that Jack is proud and comfortable in his skin. Jack of Hearts is already getting buzz for being own voices, queer, and sex positive, and billed as a potential game changer for discussions about sex  and sex ed in Young Adult literature. If it’s half as good as the early buzz, you’ll be eagerly awaiting its October 30, 2018 release from Little Brown. (Also, check out that cover!)

Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Cover image for Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn BarnesFans of The Naturals and The Fixer, take note! Jennifer Lynn Barnes has a new YA mystery headed your way this fall. Sawyer Taft is a talented mechanic, so the last thing she ever expected was to find her estranged grandmother on her doorstep, offering her a six-figure contract to be a debutante. But Sawyer quickly realizes that this unusual offer may be her only chance to discover the answer to a question that has haunted her for her whole life–who is her father? But as she begins mixing in high society, Sawyer quickly realizes that her family’s secrets are tied up with those of other powerful families, and investigating the past may unearth a lot of skeletons that those movers and shakers would rather stay buried. Coming your way November 6, 2018 from Freeform.

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Cover image for In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireNow technically this one isn’t due out until January 2019, so you can imagine my pleasure and surprise at landing an ARC! Katherine Victoria Lundy is a steadfast and serious young girl, and perhaps the last person you would expect to stumble upon a door to another world. But some worlds are founded on logic an reason, fair value and honest bargains. And so it is that Lundy opens a door to the Goblin Market, and finds her true home. But it wouldn’t be fair value to keep a child who is too young to decide, and so Lundy must periodically return to her own world, and the strings that tie her back there grow stronger with each visit. Spoiler alert: I read this one cover to cover on the plane ride home, and it might just be the best Wayward Children book yet! Set your countdown for January 8, 2019, and curse Tor if you don’t want to wait that long.