School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Present-day East Turkestan is the setting for this compelling novel of a Uyghur girl's struggle to hold on to hope in the midst of poverty and oppression. Mehrigul, 14, has been forced by her embittered father to leave school and work on their farm, filling the role of her older brother, who has left the family to seek a better life. She must assume the responsibilities of her depressed and powerless mother; show respect for her father, who drinks and gambles away their meager earnings; and face the growing threat that she will be sent to work in a factory in southern China. On market day, an American woman offers a large sum of money to purchase a grapevine basket Mehrigul has made and asks her to make more, and the teen recognizes that her life could change. With the help and emotional support of her beloved grandfather and the drive to assure that her younger sister stays in school, Mehrigul begins making the baskets, slowly discovering her own talent and creativity, only to be thwarted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The vivid and authentic sense of place, custom, and politics serves as an effective vehicle for the skillfully characterized, emotionally charged story. Mehrigul's dawning awareness of what it means to be an artist as well as her anger, frustration, and fear are palpable, conveying a true sense of the iron will underlying her submissiveness. The realistic and satisfying resolution will resonate with readers, even as they learn the fascinating details of an unfamiliar culture. An endnote and afterword provide valuable historical background. An absorbing read and an excellent choice for expanding global understanding.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
The New York Times Book Review - Linda Sue Park
The Vine Basket is Mehrigul's story first. The tight focus on her character engages the reader so that learning about Uighur village life happens as a consequence, all the more memorable for being rendered as story rather than lesson.
In this debut novel, La Valley introduces Mehrigul, a 14-year-old Uyghur girl growing up in western China, who struggles with poverty, an alcoholic father and depressed mother, and government policies that could force her to be shipped off to work in a factory. Mehrigul’s grandfather has shown her how to create cornucopia-style baskets from grapevines, a departure from the traditional handicrafts of her region, and one of them catches the attention of an American buyer, who pays extraordinarily well and orders more baskets on a tight (and probably impossible) deadline. The use of the grapevines as a metaphor for Uyghur resilience is a bit heavy-handed, but the blossoming of Mehrigul’s artistic abilities and confidence are inspiring. Her loneliness and hopelessness in the face of many obstacles are also resonant, as is her longing to return to school, despite the pressure and need to help her family financially. For many readers, this book may be their first introduction to the Uyghur people, and La Valley strongly evokes the culture and struggles of an ethnic group whose future is less than certain. Ages 9–12. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"In her debut novel, La Valley paints a memorable picture of this faraway people. . . . A haunting tale of artistic vision triumphing over adversity."
"For many readers, this book may be their first introduction to the Uyghur people, and La Valley strongly evokes the culture and struggles of an ethnic group whose future is less than certain."
"Engages and teaches."
"An absorbing read and an excellent choice for expanding global understanding."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"The carefully honed plot and palpable family tensions...will resonate with most youngsters."
In a remote corner of China, a Uyghur girl faces government oppression and family troubles. Mehrigul's people live on a land they call East Turkestan, located south of Russia, north of Tibet and east of Pakistan. For centuries, their lives had been defined by the Kunlun Mountains and the Taklamakan Desert as they eked out a living strong in cultural traditions. Now under the control of the Chinese government, they are being forced off their mineral-rich land, and girls are sent to work in factories far to the south. Mehrigul has a gift for weaving baskets--as does her beloved grandfather--and when an American woman spots a purely decorative one she has woven to decorate the market cart and offers to buy more, Mehrigul sees a way to preserve her family farm and continue her schooling. In her debut novel, La Valley paints a memorable picture of this faraway people. Mehrigul's efforts to weave baskets that are beautiful rather than functional fill the pages with absorbing detail and poignancy. She prays that her hands "might make beautiful work" and that like the bamboo vine she "must learn to bend but not break." Her mother's withdrawal and her father's alcoholism and gambling are countered by her steadfast determination to maintain her self-worth. A haunting tale of artistic vision triumphing over adversity. (map, note from Mamatjian Juma of Radio Free Asia, afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)