The Star Fisher

The Star Fisher

4.5 4
by Laurence Yep

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"This poignant, gently humorous novel is about prejudice and acceptance....15-year-old Joan Lee is a child of two worlds. As a Chinese American, she has never felt her separateness more than now, in 1927, in this new place in West Virginia. Only Miss Lucy, their landlord and neighbor, seems welcoming....There's nothing coy about Yep's portrait of prejudice, which he… See more details below


"This poignant, gently humorous novel is about prejudice and acceptance....15-year-old Joan Lee is a child of two worlds. As a Chinese American, she has never felt her separateness more than now, in 1927, in this new place in West Virginia. Only Miss Lucy, their landlord and neighbor, seems welcoming....There's nothing coy about Yep's portrait of prejudice, which he sketches from several angles."—Booklist. "A pleasure to read, entertaining its audience even as it educates their hearts."—Horn Book.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fifteen-year-old Joan Lee tells of her family's hard-won acceptance as the first Chinese-Americans in a small West Virginia town. It is 1927, and few in Clarksburg have the breadth of experience or spirit to offer foreigners their friendship. The Lees are greeted instead by verbal jibes and threats painted on their fence, until their remarkable landlady becomes a catalyst for change. Beneath Joan's direct, deceptively simple narrative voice lies an emotionally complex tale. Drawing on his mother's immigrant experience as the basis for this moving story, Newbery Honor author Yep ( Drag on wings ; The Rainbow People ) skillfully avoids pat or reductive explanations. He gives his heroine, for example, the maturity to recognize the biases her own family holds as well as the courage to stand up to the more blatant and violent prejudices of her neighbors. A traditional Chinese myth about the starfisher--half-bird, half-human, confined to the earth but yearning for the stars--weaves through the story, a poetic but insistent metaphor for Joan's own hopes and dreams. Ages 8-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
This is Yep's story of his mother's teenage years growing up in West Virginia. It is a story of relationships, prejudices, financial problems, and a family determined to make it in America, The legend of the "Star Fisher" may give comfort to others who feel lost and alienated. One of the funniest moments comes when Mrs. Yep tries to make apple pies for the church social. By sheer guts she succeeds. This is not just a Chinese-American tale; it is a universal story for every age. 1992 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-- On the first night in their new home in a small West Virginia town, 15-year-old Joan Lee lulls her little sister to sleep with the story of a magical kingfisher who is held captive in human form by her mortal husband, but who is later helped by her daughter. She soon joins her mother in the stars, but is sometimes seen, cometlike, attempting to bridge heaven and Earth. Joan, the oldest daughter of the only Chinese family in 1927 Clarksburg, at first sees only herself in the story's symbols: caught between two worlds. As she braves the curiosity and prejudice of the townspeople, helps bridge a friendship between her mother and an elderly neighbor, and gets acquainted with an enigmatic classmate, she realizes that she is not the only one struggling to find a niche. Joan's story will appeal to any reader who has ever felt excluded, but she and her family seem to hold many more stories begging to be shared. Based on tales Yep gleaned from his mother and her family, whose resilience and humor shine through, The Star Fisher offers tantalizing glimpses of interesting characters, but abruptly shifts focus from a family story with the younger sister as a strong character to a relationship between mother and daughter. Basically, there is too much depth and complexity here to be confined to one book. --Carla Kozak, San Francisco Public Library

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.34(w) x 7.06(h) x 0.44(d)
850L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

I thought I knew what green was until we went to West Virginia.

As the old locomotive chugged over the pass, I could see nothing but green. Tall, thin trees covered the slopes, and leafy vines grew around the tree trunks; and surrounding the trees were squat bushes and tall grass.

And as the train rattled down into the valley, the green slopes seemed to rise upward like the waves of an ocean; and I felt as if the train were a ship sinking into a sea of green.

As the old day coach swayed back and forth, the other passengers ignored the scenery, concentrating instead on their newspapers or their conversation. One woman was weaving lace, her hands darting with sure, swift motions, so that the white lace seemed to fall magically from her fingertips.

My little brother, Bobby, was thumping his heels rhythmically against the seat. At ten, he was easily bored. During the day, he was like lightning, always having to dart here and there, He would never walk when he could run. And then in the evenings, he would just conk out suddenly. Mama used to wish we could bottle some of his energy and sell it for tonic.

"When are we going to get there?" Bobby asked for the twentieth time.

Bobby had meant his question for me, so he had used English; but Mama spoke to him in Chinese. "Speak in your own language." Though both Mama and Papa wore American clothes, that was about the only thing American about them, since they spoke little English.

"He wanted to know when we would be arriving in town," I translated for Mama, the way I usually did.

However, Marna was staring straight at Bobby. "Let him answer for himself."

Bobby dragged a finger backand forth along the windowsill. "Mama, people stare when we use Chinese."

"Let them stare," Mama said. I don't want you to forget your Chinese."

"As if I could," Bobby muttered in English.

Papa lowered his month-old Young China News. The Chinese newspaper from San Francisco was folded and creased and smudged from having been passed through many hands, but Papa was eager to get the news even if it was a bit stale.

"Answer Mama," he said in Chinese. He tried to look stern, but Papa's mouth was just meant for smiling and not for frowning.

Bobby studied his dirty fingertip. I just wanted to know when we were going to get there."

"Soon," Papa said and tried to go back to his newspaper.

"Don't slouch." Mama used Bobby's shirt collar to pull him up straight and eyed me. "You're sixteen, Joan. Don't sit as if you were made of jelly."

,,I'm fifteen, Mama," I corrected her for the dozenth time.

"Americans don't know how to count Years," Mama observed calmly. "They should count the year in the womb just like the Chinese."

'Mama," I said, blushing.

My little sister, Emily, was eight going on eighty and had a face made for scowling. She pulled herself reluctantly into an erect posture. "Why did we have to leave Ohio anyway?"

Papa always had more patience with Emily than with the rest of us, Marna included. He folded up his newspaper carefully as if it were made of silk. Then he shifted over beside Emily and set his ear against the window. He kept his ear there for a moment, and then his eyes opened wide in wonder. "Listen," he said to Emily. "Can you hear all the dirty shirts?"

Emily gazed up at Papa suspiciously; and then, slipping off the seat, she set her ear against the glass with that strange air of gravity she always had. The rest of us sat, MS straining as well; but all we could hear was the clickety-clack of the train wheels.

"No," Emily confessed.

Papa scrunched up his face as if the voices were growing louder. I can hear them whispering. They're so desperate."

That was the thing with Papa, you never knew when he was serious or not; and for want of something better to do, Bobby also squirmed off his seat and joined Emily. "What do they say?"

Papa leaned forward and whispered loudly, "Wash me, wash me."

Mama pulled Bobby back down beside her and shoved Emily back to our seat. "There had better be dirty shirts," Mama declared. "The move has taken most of our money."

Papa didn't say anything. in fact, he didn't even dare look at Mama; and he seemed glad when the conductor waddled through the aisle.

"Clarksburg!" he called. "The next station stop is Clarksburg."

The lacemaker put away her things and, taking out a hat like a huge plate, began to fasten it to her hairdo with a pin as long as her arm.

Papa seemed glad of the distraction as he got up and began to take our things from the luggage rack overhead. Papa had already brought down the furniture and the heavy laundry equipment, so all we had were our personal belongings.

When I saw what Papa was doing, I got up as well to give him a hand. I stood with my feet slightly spread to keep my balance as I began to convey the things to the aisle. "I'm glad we left," I said, trying to help out Papa. "Ohio was full of ugly factories and smoke."

"Ohio," Emily said, scowling from tier seat, "was full of places that showed moving pictures," Emily had especially taken to the new moving pictures and stated often and loudly that she was going to be a cowgirl someday.

"Our old laundry was tiny, but our new laundry will be big. There's more room for business and more room for us." Papa always liked to see the sunny side of things.

Mama was checking around and under the benches to make sure that we hadn't left anything. "But there aren't any other Chinese," Mama complained. She always liked to see the shady side of things.

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