An Ocean Apart, A World Away

An Ocean Apart, A World Away

4.8 11
by Lensey Namioka

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While most 16-year-old girls are planning their weddings, Xueyan, known as Yanyan, has no interest at all in marriage. She is fascinated by medicine. In China in 1921, women rarely attend university, let alone medical school. Still, Yanyan is determined to become a doctor. But Yanyan’s feelings about marriage change when she meets Liang Baoshu.

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While most 16-year-old girls are planning their weddings, Xueyan, known as Yanyan, has no interest at all in marriage. She is fascinated by medicine. In China in 1921, women rarely attend university, let alone medical school. Still, Yanyan is determined to become a doctor. But Yanyan’s feelings about marriage change when she meets Liang Baoshu.

An outstanding scholar and martial arts student, Baoshu is passionate and dangerous. He is determined to rid China of the foreigners who occupy it and restore power to the Manchu dynasty. Life with him would be an adventure. But when Yanyan realizes that being with Baoshu would also mean sacrificing her dream of becoming a doctor, she faces the most difficult decision of her life. And her choice leads to an entirely new adventure an ocean away in America—where Yanyan is the foreigner.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Picking up where Ties That Bind, Ties That Break left off, this novel opens in 1921 China where Ailin is about to set sail for America, and Yanyan, who narrates here, dreams of becoming a doctor. Ages 12-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Sixteen-year-old Yanyan is bright and adventurous, qualities that generally are discouraged in young ladies living in 1921 Nanjing, China. Yanyan's father is especially liberal, however, and Yanyan is free from many of society's restrictions. Her feet are unbound, she knows a bit about the martial arts, she speaks English, and she is allowed to develop a friendship with the handsome Manchurian Liang Baoshu. When Baoshu pleads with her to run away with him, Yanyan is tempted sorely by the romantic adventure, but it would mean sacrificing her dream to become a doctor. Refreshingly, Yanyan decides that she would rather take up her father's offer and go to medical school at Cornell University, although such a choice would mean leaving Baoshu forever. Yanyan's best friend is Allin, the protaganist in Ties That Bind, Ties That Break (Delacorte, 1999/VOYA December 1999), and readers are treated to a continuation of her story in this novel. Namioka has entertained readers with her earlier books, such as Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear (Joy Street Books, 1992), that depict the humorous tribulations of Chinese immigrants to the United States. She again demonstrates the tremendous cultural and linguistic differences between the two countries that were more evident in the 1920s before the homogenizing effect of mass communication. Young adults who recently have immigrated surely will enjoy this book. It also educates others on Chinese history and culture and the courage it takes to travel so far away from home. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Delacorte, 197p,
— Diane Masla
Sixteen-year-old Yanyan lives in Nanjing, China, ten years after revolution tore her homeland apart in 1911. Strong and adventurous, she is focused on her goal of becoming a doctor. Her father is conscious of the changing times, and encourages his daughter to pursue her dream. Yanyan suddenly wonders if she would rather marry than continue her education when she finds herself attracted to her brother's friend Liang Baoshu, a revolutionary seeking to return the Manchu people to power. When Baoshu begs her to run away with him, Yanyan must make a difficult choice. Ultimately, she attends Cornell University in America, where she endures many prejudices not only as a Chinese person, but also as a woman on her way to reaching her goals. Some of these characters were previously introduced in Ties That Bind, Ties That Break, but this book works well as a stand-alone. Namioka provides readers with a captivating story of a strong female character in a nontraditional role, smoothly weaving in aspects of Chinese culture and history without detracting from the plot. This story will appeal to both readers of historical fiction and those who enjoy novels about young women triumphing over adversity and prejudice. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Random House, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 197p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Olivia Durant
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10 As a young girl growing up in Nanjing, China, only 10 years after the revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Manchu's Qing dynasty, Yanyan always had a tendency to do the unexpected. She was loud and boisterous, interested in the martial arts her brothers practiced, and in studying medicine. Now a teen, she begs her father to let her travel to Shanghai, he agrees, on the condition that her oldest brother and his friend accompany her. The friend, Liang Baoshu, is strikingly handsome, adventurous, and obviously interested in her. When his involvement with a movement to restore the Manchu rulers requires that he leave the city, he asks her to run away with him, but she chooses instead to accept her father's offer to send her to the United States to study. Cornell University is indeed a world away, and Yanyan, now called Sheila, finds it hard to adjust to new foods, cold weather, and difficult course work. Many Americans are open about their prejudices, and not all of the other Chinese students are welcoming. But Sheila perseveres, finding success in her difficult course work and winning a new friend who would allow her to be her strong self in ways Baoshu could not. Namioka has perfectly captured the English of someone still learning its nuances, and an afterword explains the political settings. The gentle romance, the unusual historical setting, and the strong female character each contribute to the book's appeal, but its special strength is the voice of the narrator. -Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A determined Chinese girl pursues her dream of a medical education by leaving her family and attending a university in America in the early 1920s. A companion to Namioka's Ties that Bind, Ties that Break (1999), this opens with Yanyan's journey to Shanghai to bid farewell to the earlier novel's heroine as she embarks for San Francisco. The journey sets up the character's central conflict: even as she envies her friend for her opportunities, she finds herself attracted to a charismatic friend of her Elder Brother's, and finds that she must choose between her personal ambitions and her admirer. A melodramatic plot twist aids her choice-her admirer turns out to be part of a conspiracy to return the Manchu emperor to the throne-and off she goes to Cornell, where she encounters cultural difficulties aplenty. While the first-person narration is burdened by awkward historical summaries ("After our defeat in the Second Opium War, various countries discovered how weak China really was"), Yanyan's struggles in the US are compelling. A patronizing student adviser tries to steer her toward home economics and away from physics ("Here at Cornell, we teach young ladies all the womanly arts in order to make them proper wives and mothers"). At the Chinese laundry, she is mistaken for an employee; when corrected, the customer says, "Well, I'll be doggoned! I did hear there were Chinks at the university." Despite these narrative flaws, Yanyan emerges as a highly sympathetic character for whom the reader will find herself rooting as she picks her way through her internal doubts and the obstacles set before her by both Chinese and American cultures. An author's note provides some background on a particularlyexciting and turbulent time in Chinese history. (Fiction. 12-16)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.13(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.53(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


"It's out of the question!" said Father. I was usually able to coax him into seeing things my way, but this time he was firm. "Shanghai is one of the most disorderly cities in the world! Even in England, I heard people use the term 'to shanghai,' and it means . . ." He stopped, looked embarrassed, and then continued. "Anyway, it's an evil place. I can't allow a daughter of mine to be exposed to that wicked city without protection."

We continued eating, and nobody spoke for some minutes. Having lost my appetite, I just picked at the grains of rice in my bowl.

In a few days my dearest friend, Tao Ailin, was leaving on a steamship from Shanghai to America. It was possible that I would never see her again. I desperately wanted to say good-bye to her before the ship sailed.

Then Mother spoke, and to my surprise, she took my side. "Yanyan and Ailin were very close, and I can understand how much she wants to see her friend one last time."

Father thought for a while. "Very well, Yanyan can go to Shanghai if we find someone to accompany her as protector," he said finally. After a moment he said, "How about my secretary, Xiao Lin?"

"We cannot have Yanyan go to Shanghai accompanied by a man who is not a relation!" cried Mother, shocked.

"Besides, he's not much of a protector," I said. The secretary was a meek little man who would cringe in alarm if a cockroach crossed his path. "If a bully showed up, I would have to protect him!"

Help came from a most unexpected source. Eldest Brother cleared his throat. "Actually, I was thinking of going to Shanghai myself. My friend Liang Baoshu has some people he wants to meet there, and he asked if I would like to accompany him. Maybe Yanyan can come with us."

I had heard Eldest Brother mention Liang Baoshu before as a fellow student in his martial arts class. According to tradition, a well-educated gentleman should be good in both wen, meaning book learning, and wu, meaning martial skills. My two elder brothers had taken martial arts lessons from a master. Second Brother had dropped out after a while, but Eldest Brother continued the lessons, and we knew he was one of the best students in his class. The class had another outstanding student called Liang Baoshu, he had said.

My parents decided to invite Liang Baoshu for dinner the following night so that they could meet him and judge for themselves whether he would be a suitable companion for the trip to Shanghai. I was overjoyed. I had always been interested in the martial arts, and now I would meet one of the best students in the class. Best of all, I would have a chance to go to Shanghai and see Ailin after all.

"This is Liang Baoshu," said Eldest Brother, introducing his friend.

The boy bowed to my father first, then to my mother. He did not turn toward me, nor did Eldest Brother introduce me.

This allowed me to study the visitor. He was very tall, which made me suspect he was a northerner. Our family, the Zhangs, had lived in Nanjing for generations. Our city is about halfway up China, and Nanjing literally means "Southern Capital," while Beijing means "Northern Capital." So we tended to think of ourselves as southerners. Most northerners were tall, with high cheekbones, and they had a reputation for being taciturn. They claimed they were people of deeds, not words. We southerners said they just couldn't express themselves very well.

Liang Baoshu was not only tall but moved with easy grace, and I could well believe that he was one of the best students in the martial arts class. When he spoke, I became certain that he was a northerner, because he had the accent of Beijing City.

We sat down to eat dinner, with the men on one side of the table and the women on the other side. I had heard that in some families, men and women were placed in alternate seats. We were modern, but not that modern!

As usual, I gave Mother my arm as she walked to the dining table. She had bound feet and tottered a little while she walked. After I had helped Mother sit down, I straightened up and found the visitor looking at my feet and then straight into my face.

"Didn't my brother tell you?" I said. "I don't have bound feet."

Liang Baoshu blinked at being addressed directly but recovered quickly. "Manchu women don't have bound feet, either," he said.

Father dominated the dinner conversation. Sometimes my brothers openly contradicted him, for unlike many Chinese fathers, he permitted his children to do this. He actually enjoyed arguing with us. Of course, he enjoyed winning the argument even more. Tonight he started talking about vehicles that were not pulled by men but powered by engines.

For once Mother joined the conversation. Usually she was too shy to speak out, especially when there were male guests present. But lately Father had been encouraging her to speak up. (The fact that I spoke out a lot had its effect on Mother, too.) "I thought we already had vehicles powered by engines," she said softly. "Don't they run on those iron roads that are being built all over the country? There's one that runs all the way from here to Beijing!"

"You're thinking of trains," said Father. "I mean something different. I'm talking about motorcars that carry only three to four people. They don't need iron tracks, but can run on regular roads. Mark my words, we'll see our streets full of these motorcars someday!"

The rest of us looked skeptical. I frankly couldn't imagine our streets jammed with these motorcars. The rickshaw men wouldn't stand for it, and think of the mess if one of these things should become tangled up with a mule cart!

Eldest Brother smiled at our guest. "The so-called motorcars might replace your beloved horses one day!"

Liang Baoshu smiled back. "Maybe they will in the city streets, but not in the wide-open countryside. There's nothing more exhilarating than riding a good horse."

His eyes were bright as he talked about riding, and I could easily picture him galloping like the wind. I must have been listening with my mouth open. Again he looked directly into my face.

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Meet the Author

Lensey Namioka is the author of Ties That Bind, Ties That Break; Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear; and Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family.

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Ocean Apart, A World Away (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was one to carry with you to read at night Lensey Namioka has created an addicting fictional story. Xueyan Zhang, or Yanyan which is her commonly called name, is a sixteen year old young woman living with her wealthy family in the city of Nanjing, in the country of China. Her head was about to float away with developed dreams. But unlike most others her age they¿re not dreams of romantic and fateful love with the following of a lasting marriage. Her dreams are focused on her independence in life established on a career in medicine. Achieving the title Doctor is more important to her than achieving the title Mrs. However, when she is introduced to Liang Baoshu, a man of intrigue and adventure, all of that is threatened to alter. As the two become aware of their connection in fondness, Liang Baoshu asks her to join him on his journey to his dream. But, unwilling to replace her own, Yanyan travels away to America to begin her steps into accomplishment. There, her flare of uniqueness, her courage and determination transports her to a series of new experiences. Nevertheless, one is still dealt in the hand of love accompanied by the various symptoms. I loved this book! What I adored the most about it was Yanyan¿s exclusive perspective. As she was unaccustomed to American ways knowing only what she had grown up with, when face to face with the abundant differences her reactions displayed her viewpoint. Like in her home economics class. They were being taught how to sculpt a radish into a flower. Yanyan claimed that it was a waste of time because when it¿s eaten it has no shape. A second characteristic of the book I had liked was the slightly humorous descriptions that brought together the story. An example from the text, ¿¿rolled her eyes. I recognized that expression, because I had seen it often on the faces of my mother and Second Brother. It was time to drop the subject.¿ My personal opinion was that this book was satisfactorily written and that the characters and plot were constructed well. I would highly recommend this novel for those around the ages twelve to fourteen, who like light books of romance and interesting chapters. It really does take you a world away and into the life of Yanyan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No books were moved yesterday i found a note from officer cody to come to the first book on this page...the books were moved...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is AWESOME i love it it explains a girl trying to live her life the way she wants to she planned how she wanted her life to be but she did have to make alitte changes and theres alittle bit of romance
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Sorry i havent been on. My parents said i cant roleplay