"Truth is a powerful thing. Sometimes it purely cries out to be told," muses 15-year-old Eliza Jane McCully, the narrator of Fletcher's (Shadow Spinner) eye-opening tale set in the late 1880s, when Chinese immigrant workers were expelled from Crescent City, Calif. The heroine lives with her parents in a lighthouse, where she appreciates the natural world around her and embraces the responsibilities she shares in caring for the beacon. When a boy named Wah Chung saves Eliza Jane from a wave, she's forced to examine the prejudice that her father and others voice toward the Chinese ("They're heathens, Eliza Jane. They contaminate us all just by being near," says her father) and decide the truth for herself. Her discussions with Dr. Wilton (her mother's doctor) on religious matters are especially illuminating. However, the Chinese characters remain two-dimensional; readers will likely come away with no greater appreciation of the depth of the Chinese culture or their struggle to assimilate. But other challenges arise that may well strike a resonant chord with readers, including Mrs. McCully's miscarriage, Eliza Jane's run-in with school bullies and growing estrangement from her father. In a bittersweet ending, the heroine finds her voice and the power that resides in telling the truth, but her bravery is not without consequences (her family is evicted for harboring Wah Chung during a storm). This spirited heroine's wryly humorous voice emerges as the novel's greatest strength. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"To come to our home in the lighthouse, we had to walk across the bottom of the sea," is the first inviting sentence in this noteworthy novel. Practically everyone in Crescent City believes that Chinese people are heathens, but the friendly act of a boy named Wah Chung causes Eliza to have doubts. Can she go against her father's convictions, especially when he may lose their island home and her mother is recovering from a miscarriage? From page one, Eliza is an immensely engaging character whose charm continues to grow. Good voice and an ear for colorful archaisms bring even minor characters to life. Miss Arglemile is "tougher than last week's biscuits," and Parthenia is one highly "contrarious" goat. Humor mingles with beauty, danger and distrust as Eliza discovers that doing right can bring real sorrow. Based on the actual expulsion of Chinese immigrants from California in 1886, this convincing novel never allows its extensive research to intrude. Similarly, thorny Biblical concepts are examined without invasive moralizing. Fletcher has taken a weighty subject and turned it into a winning tale with a protagonist so appealing that readers will hate to close the book on her. 2001, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.00. Ages 10 to 13. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
Set in northern California in 1886, this tale is of a spiritual coming-of-age for Eliza, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. It is also a surprisingly mesmerizing tale of a ghost in the American national closet. After a brief introduction, the book introduces young Eliza, who follows without question the biblical command to honor her father and mother. She loves her parents, their home, and even her irascible goat, Parthenia. The problems in town with the Chinese, or Celestials, are disconcerting, but Eliza follows her father's decree that the strangers are heathens and therefore an evil that she should avoid. A chance meeting with Wah Chung, a boy her own age, finds Eliza questioning her father. Her mother's frightening miscarriage leads Eliza to doubt her god's existence. Eventually, she will investigate the Bible on her own, finding passages that emphasize love, as opposed to her father's stricter isolationist interpretations. She will determine her own path of faith and action. This book would be particularly interesting to use as a historical contrast for social studies classes covering last fall's events and their religious motivations. It also provides a broader view of the era for those who enjoy the first-person tales of Chinese immigrants in California similar to those of Lawrence Yep. A detailed afterword by the author separates fact from fiction and points to further areas of study for interested readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Atheneum/S & S, 214p,
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2001: On the Pacific coast, a lighthouse stands on an isthmus, with a family living there and tending the light. It is a time in the 19th century when Chinese immigrants on the West Coast are treated poorly and have few rights. This is the setting for Fletcher's novel about Eliza Jane, who helps her father in the lighthouse. One night, when he had left her in charge, Eliza's mother goes into premature labor, and the baby dies. Another crisis confronts the family during a wild storm. There is a rule that no other person can stay on the little island with the lighthouse; but during the storm a young Chinese boy takes shelter there, knowing he will be persecuted by the townspeople if he comes out of hiding. Eliza gets food to him, with her mother's help, and during the storm, with seawater flooding their home, she has to reveal the boy's presence to her father. The confrontation forces the family to make a choice, with their job at the lighthouse at stake—yet it is a moral choice that has even larger repercussions. It is always a difficult job to present a story of prejudice from the majority point of view: here we have to travel along Eliza's own journey from ignorance and prejudice to enlightenment—not a good position from the minority's point of view. In that sense, the story would be more acceptable to Chinese Americans if it had been from the Chinese boy's point of view. Fletcher has done a lot of research about anti-Chinese prejudices at that place in that time, so the facts are accurate; and Eliza and a few other whites are appalled at the injustice shown the Chinese neighbors, so they represent the "right" moral stance.Since the main reason whites shunned the Chinese was because they considered them "heathens," the Bible is quoted copiously in this novel for both that point of view and the one Eliza adopts, based on Jesus' statements about showing compassion for those in need. Eliza's faith in a loving God has already been shaken mightily by the death of her baby sister, and that strengthens her need to understand the moral implications of Christian faith. Fletcher describes Eliza's dilemma well, and she also writes about the exotic lighthouse setting in vivid language, helping her readers feel as though they are there on the little island with Eliza. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, Aladdin, 214p.,
Gr 5-9-Eliza Jane McCully's father maintains a lighthouse perched on a picturesque island along the coast of northern California in 1886. Twice a day, the tide withdraws, leaving a rocky isthmus between the island and the mainland. The 13-year-old loves to observe the delicate creatures collected in the tide pools, for just a few hours before the sea covers them again. She is always aware of her father's admonition about unpredictable "sneaker waves," and is nearly claimed by one as she and her balking goat attempt to return home one day. They are rescued by a Chinese boy with whom Eliza feels an immediate spiritual connection, prompting her to question her father's beliefs that the immigrants are godless heathens and opportunists who take jobs away from the townspeople. She becomes an outspoken advocate for the Chinese a month later when she wanders into a shantytown and witnesses an old man (who turns out to be her rescuer's grandfather) being threatened and bullied. In ensuing days, anti-Chinese sentiment escalates, with vigilantes forcing the immigrants from their homes at gunpoint. Eliza harbors Wah Chung until her secret is exposed, and then pleads that he not be handed over to authorities who are likely to expel or harm him. Eliza challenges her father and her community to live up to their Christian values by protecting the boy. This is a gripping and complex story, and Fletcher's lyrical depiction of 19th-century life, her exceptionally well-drawn protagonist, and her deft analysis of racial discrimination make the book even more powerful.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Racism and her mother's miscarriage bring an end to a happy chapter in the life of a California lighthouse-keeper's daughter in this emotionally tumultuous novel, set in the 1880s. Until a group of townsfolk band together to drive the "celestials," the small Chinese immigrant community, out of Crescent City, the only cloud in Eliza Jane's sky is her goat Parthenia's genius at escaping to munch on other people's flowers. Despite her father's orders to stay away from the "heathen," however, she finds herself drawn to a talented young artist, and inadvertently becomes an angry, horrified witness to incidents of harassment that culminate in a nighttime mass kidnapping of Chinese women and children. Meanwhile, she is also wrestling with her religious faith after her mother loses a baby, and coming to discover that her father isn't quite the pillar of strength she had always believed him to be. Drawing the forced removal from historical accounts, Fletcher enriches her tale's setting with carefully researched detail about lighthouses and the families that kept them, and ultimately brings to her troubled protagonist both an epiphany that restores her respect for God and her father, and a new baby brother. An intense, meaty historical novel from the author of Shadow Spinner (1998). (Fiction. 10-12)