I really loved these two books!
Without revealing too much, Shanghai Girls is about two sisters who are forced into arranged marriages as repayment for their father’s debt. They escape China at the beginning of the Japanese invasion, survive months on Ellis Island in an immigration facility, and later start their new lives in the United States. There’s so much more depth to the stories (but no spoilers).
Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls. Joy, the daughter whom was given everything the family did not have, finds herself blindsided by the idealism of communism and leaves America for the People’s Republic of China. Her mother follows her with hopes of bringing her back to America, but Joy must learn things the hard way before she sees reality.
The family dynamics, the actual history, and intricacies of the plots are what I loved about these novels. I like when I can’t always predict what will happen next. There were also times when the reality of the situation is so honest that the loss and despair leaped out and grabbed a hold of me. I love that I felt what the mother was experiencing in the second novel – there were times when I was so angry at Joy, but also scared for her safety and amazed at her bravery!
I also learned a lot of history from these books. The lives of the characters are closely and accurately interwoven into both Chinese and American history (I googled some of it). I had no idea just how much discrimination the Chinese immigrants faced in America. I had no idea how many people died during the era of “the great leap forward” in China. I’m really grateful to Lisa See for incorporating these facts.
I’ve read these books twice already and would read them again!