From 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, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
A stranger had thought her simple twist of vines to be of value. This thought buoys Mehrigul, a Uyghur (a Turkic ethnic group), even while her impoverished family struggles to exist in the northwest region of China once known as East Turkestan, where ethnic populations, as in Tibet, are being culturally marginalized. Mehrigul endeavors to become an artisan whose basketry is appreciated. Of course, more is at stake than selling some baskets to an interested American woman. Because the girl’s disgruntled gambler father needs her to do farmwork, she is no longer attending school and, therefore, is a target for government cadres to send south to work in a factory. A grandfather who believes in her gift inspires her determination to make something worthy for her benefactor’s shop and dream of a different life. La Valley’s debut is at times slowed by copious amounts of background on the region and its residents’ daily lives. But when the focus is squarely on Mehrigul, it both engages and teaches. Grades 5-8. --Karen Cruze