Gloria Whelan is becoming quite a presence on our list with her National Book Award winner HOMELESS BIRD, her solid backlist of historical fiction titles, and the upcoming publication of AFTER THE TRAIN.
After penning three historical novels set in India and Russia, Whelan (Homeless Bird) invites readers to experience the unique hardships of Chu Ju, a 14-year-old girl growing up in China during the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Living in a society where families are allowed only two children and where females are considered "worthless," Chu Ju's parents pray that their next child will be a son. When a daughter is born, the head of the family, Chu Ju's grandmother, makes plans to sell the baby. Heartbroken for herself and for her parents' distress, Chu Ju decides to run away from home and relinquish her place in the family to her new baby sister. The author's insightful account of Chu Ju's solo journey through the countryside balances dangerous predicaments with comforting strokes of good fortune. Readers' hearts will go out to Chu Ju as she moves from village to village, working on a fishing boat, enduring cruel treatment and squalid conditions on a silkworm farm and finally settling in with a poor widow who provides room and board in exchange for work in the rice paddies. This tale of survival and self-sacrifice gives a graphic portrayal of authoritarian rule, but emphasizes the strength and compassion that can endure even among the oppressed, and Whelan skillfully shows the perspectives of both sides of the revolution. Facing one test of courage after another, Chu Ju emerges as a heroine worthy of the rare and coveted rewards she ultimately receives. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8-In present-day rural China, 14-year-old Chu Ju's mother gives birth to her second child, another girl. When her grandmother makes plans to sell the baby, Chu Ju decides to leave home. Perhaps then her family will keep little Hua and her parents will try again for a boy. After finding work on a sampan and becoming like a daughter to the fisherman's wife, she tells her story, and the woman is so horrified that she wants her to return home immediately. Forced to move on once more, the teen ends up in the household of Han Na, whose son wants to leave the rice paddies and go to Shanghai. Here Chu Ju proves her worth, making the paddy more productive using modern techniques she learns from her neighbor and friend Ling, caring for Han Na as she becomes increasingly weak, and rescuing her unfortunate son from jail in the city. Finally, having achieved a sense of self-worth, she goes back to see her family, but only to visit as she has made a life on the land bequeathed to her by Han Na. Whelan skillfully shows the mixture of past and present that is characteristic of rural China. She conveys the feelings of a nation on the brink of change, a country whose young people are trying out new ways of doing things, yet are clear about what traditional values are important to retain.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.