Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review: Dreams of Joy

Summary: In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love. -- Random House


I can pretty much guarantee that whatever Lisa See writes, I will read. She is one of my favorite authors and I can credit her with giving me an on-going interest in Chinese history. Last year, I reviewed SHANGHAI GIRLS; and of course, I loved it. I don't expect you to remember this, but I mentioned that I still felt as if Ms. See needed to write more about the characters in this novel. In fact, here's what I said:

SHANGHAI GIRLS is almost like a family epic for me, but it ended too soon! I think there is a great deal more to learn about the characters of Pearl, May and Joy (Pearl's daughter.) In so many ways, I think there is more to their story about living in America and I'm very curious about what happens to the future generations of the Chin women. I sincerely hope that Ms. See is working on a sequel.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Ms. See had, indeed, written a sequel to SHANGHAI GIRLS called DREAMS OF JOY. I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy and I was even more excited when I received an autographed copy of the book at the Random House Tea which took place during BEA week (Ms. See was the guest speaker.) DREAMS OF JOY did not disappoint. It was everything I have come to expect from a Lisa See novel and more. The book had memorable characters, vivid descriptions of  China, dramatic scenes, and many themes that touched my heart. In summary... I loved it!

DREAMS OF JOY picks up right where SHANGHAI GIRLS leaves off. It's 1957 and Joy, a 19 year old Chinese American student, has just learned some difficult secrets about her past. She becomes very angry with her mother and her aunt and decides to take off to China to find her birth father. Joy has an idealized view about the "new" China and she doesn't realize the risks she will face by leaving the United States. Her mother Pearl, however, realizes that her daughter's impetuous actions could put her in grave danger. Pearl, who is still reeling from the loss of her husband, decides to go after Joy; and in the process, she puts her entire life at risk for the love of her daughter.

DREAMS OF JOY is a beautiful story for so many reasons. Of course, Ms. See's writing is absolutely gorgeous. She brings China to life for her readers and I was especially impressed with all of the historical information in the novel. (As you might already know about me, I love "learning" history from my fiction reads!) In addition, I thought the story itself was riveting. I was fully immersed into both Joy's and Pearl's journeys -- both their physical journeys as well as their personal journeys; and the action in the story was even better than I was expecting (especially the exciting ending!)

And the characters... what more can I really say? I loved reading about these women and their plight in China. Both Pearl and Joy were so well developed and so complex; and they both had their fair share of character flaws. I absolutely loved Pearl and related to her as a mother; and as I read this novel, I hoped that I would find the strength to save my children if they one day put themselves into a dangerous situation like Joy had done. On the other hand, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much Joy annoyed me for the majority of the novel. I understand that she was hurt because of her family's secrets, but she was so selfish and impetuous; and I just wanted to shake some sense into that girl's head. Having said that, I loved that Joy did mature throughout the novel... even to the point of understanding and eventually forgiving her mother. And my heart definitely went out to her once she became a mother.

DREAMS OF JOY would make an excellent book club book especially for those groups that have already read SHANGHAI GIRLS. It's not necessary to read SHANGHAI GIRLS first to appreciate DREAMS OF JOY because Ms. See does a wonderful job of providing bits and pieces of the back story; however, I highly recommend it because both novels are so good! Why wouldn't you want to read both of them?

There are so many wonderful things to discuss in DREAMS OF JOY -- from the characters (not all of them are likable), to China's history, to the many relationships in the story. There is a reading guide available which touches upon many of the issues I mentioned above as well as some others. For example, you might want to discuss the role of men in the story, or the importance of food (or lack there of), or some examples of a mother's love and sacrifice. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for discussion topics -- you could discuss so many things about this story.

If you are like me and love Lisa See's writing or you just want to read a beautiful story about mothers and daughters, then I highly recommend DREAMS OF JOY. I have a feeling that it's going to be one of my favorites of 2011!

16 comments:

Karlie said...

I can't wait to read this!

Beth F said...

I was forced to skip to the last paragraph. Phew. So glad you loved the book -- I cannot wait to read it.

bermudaonion said...

I fell in love with Lisa See when she spoke at the tea. This book sounds like one I would really love. I want to read Shanghai Girls first, though.

Marg said...

As a long time fan of Lisa See, it goes without saying that I can't wait to read this book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I can't wait to read this either!!!

heyiwanttoreadthat.com said...

I can't believe I haven't read this yet. I'm going to have to move it up on my nightstand. I loved Shanghai Girls.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've had Shanghai Girls on my shelves for a really long time. And everyone loves it! And I'm an idiot! Now I've got two reasons to get it read. You sure got through this one quickly, which speaks to how much you loved the first one. I'm convinced.

Stacie said...

I received an ARC of this and so I had to read Shanghai Girls first. I loved it and am anxious to read this one too. Now to just find the time. Can I lock my kids in a closet so I can read???? Just kidding! :) Great review Julie!

Kristin said...

I am so excited to read this. Lisa See is coming to the local bookstore near me at the end of this month and I can't wait to go meet her and hear her speak!

Alyce said...

I'm so glad to see that you liked this! I loved the first book but I haven't had a chance to read this one yet.

Kay said...

My book group did SHANGHAI GIRLS last year and I wasn't able to read it or attend. I do remember one of the members told me at a later meeting that they all thought the story ended too abruptly. I'll pass along the new that a sequel is available. There will likely be cheers! LOL

Audra said...

I've wanted to read Shanghai Girls for forever and a day -- clearly I need to do so sooner than later since this one has been getting raves as well!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I can't believe I haven't read anything by Lisa See yet. This one sounds so good and it's been on my wish list for quite a while now. I really need to remedy this situation!
2 Kids and Tired Books

Swapna said...

I enjoyed this one as well, as you know. Great review!

Aths said...

I've only read Snow Flower, which I loved! Shanghai Girls is next on my list! So glad that you loved this!

Anna said...

I have a copy of this book ready and waiting for my upcoming vacation! Glad to see you enjoyed it so much.