From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7–In this bleak story set in modern China, 11-year-old Lu Si-yan's world falls apart when her father is suddenly killed. Although she and her mother manage to scrape a living from the soil, disaster follows disaster until one day her uncle tells her it is time to find her "own way in the muddy whirlpool of life." He sells her to a family to be their maid and eventually marry their handsome, but childlike son. After many months of emotional abuse and exhausting work, she escapes with the help of the family's grandmother, who is horrified at the treatment Lu Si-yan is receiving at the hands of her daughter-in-law. The girl's money is stolen, and she ends up working in a toy factory where the hours are long and the pay minuscule. Eventually she becomes ill, and through a series of unbelievably fortuitous events, her uncle comes to her rescue. Though much of the story rings true, the behavior of the uncle is problematic. It is unclear why he sells his niece in the first place when she is the one who takes care of her young brother and keeps her mother going. And one must wonder why he would rescue her after her mother's death. Though Grindley attempts to show motivation, it is unconvincing. Still, the book provides an interesting look at the issues of domestic slavery and the exploitation of factory workers that plague many parts of the world today.–Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
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Gr. 5-7. Set in contemporary China, this first^B novel tells a story of child labor and a young girl wrenched from home. When her loving father dies and hardship hits the farm, Lu Si-Yan, 11, is sold by her uncle as an indentured servant and future bride to a city family ("What else is a girl good for?"). She runs away, only to be trapped as a factory laborer, sewing toys at starvation wages on the assembly line in a stifling, noisy workplace. She finds kindness as well as cruelty in the factory, especially among older fellow workers, and she eventually makes it back home, though there is no happy-ever-after ending. Sometimes the child's first-person narrative sounds more like an account from an experienced reporter than the story of country kid, and the river metaphor of Lu Si-Yan's journey home is overdone. But the direct prose unfurls the story of a girl regarded as no more than "spilled water" in a way that will reach older readers as well as the novel's target audience. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved