Lily is adopted. Her Chinese mother gave her up when she was 3. Now as a Chinese teen during the Korean war, Lily faces her fair share of racism from students. Her adoptive mom will not speak of Lily’s past, believing looking in the past is living in reverse. On the contrary, Lily is desperate to learn about her past and “gone mom” and tries to find her place in a white community during a time when Asians are not only unwelcome, but believed to be communists. With the help of her younger brother, who bravely asks questions as well as explores the attic, Lily finds the courage to ask her adoptive parents questions she’s had for years. Her brother gives Lily a box from her past and together they try to learn about the Chinese culture and how Lily can piece it into her Caucasian life.
Right as I was starting to get a little bored with the story, Lily finds a secret compartment to the box with some photos inside. Who was her mom? What do these photos mean? Slowly Lily accepts more of her Chinese traditions, but at school fear and ignorance still shows up in the form of teenage racism. There is a lovely African-American janitor who helps Lily process people’s fears against those different from themselves and he uses prisms as a way to teach others about colors, what’s beneath the surface, and how to stand strong against prejudice.
“Fear lives in our peanut butter jars, parks and baseball fields, barbershops and beauty salons. If you look up a pole, the American flag can only momentarily block the atom bomb on its way.” sums up how Lily’s community feels.
The problem with this book is once it gets good, I’m afraid people have given up on it. Once Lily pieces together her past; once she is no longer ashamed; once she has a backbone…… few will be left reading it. I think it took nearly 100 pages for me to get into it and care about Lily. She has a great relationship with her little brother so that (and the fact I had to read it to review for an award) kept me reading. This is unfortunate because something about it taking place in the 1950’s allows for the open dialogue and thoughts about adoption, biracial children, and prejudice. It’s a worthy book to face those topics, but I’m not sure many teens (the audience for which its intended) will get to enjoy and discuss such important issues.
By the end, Lily understands decisions made by both her birth mother and her adoptive mother. This story shows not only the depths and difficulty of biracial children, but also shows that the adoption process is a long journey, not just a decision.
I bought it for my library, but I doubt teens vote on it for the Arkansas Teen Books Award.