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White Ghost Girls Paperback – January 5, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For all its dreamy lyricism, this debut novel about two teenaged American sisters growing up in Hong Kong one summer boasts a satisfyingly complicated plot and a devastating conclusion. While their father is away photographing the war in Vietnam for Time magazine, 13-year-old Kate, the book's now adult narrator, and her big sister, Frances, revel in the simple life of Pok Fu Lam village. They swim in the harbor, dive for sea slugs and urchins, and listen to housekeeper Ah Bing's intense folk wisdom. ("Having babies is hard and sore," she tells them. "If you die, your spirit will sit in a pool of blood.") Their mother, on the other hand, spends her time pining for their absent father and painting watercolors that picture grassy western knolls. As Frances grows wilder that summer, Kate is forced to look more closely at their father's growing addiction to war reporting and their mother's lack of engagement with her surroundings and her family. Meanwhile, Vietnam, the Maoist cultural revolution and Frances's budding adulthood all threaten the "shipwrecked" sisters' intimacy. Along with death and sex, Greenway makes the illicit excitement of war and the sisters' opposing natures inextricably entwined. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School Kate and Frankie are American girls growing up in Hong Kong during the summer of 1967. Their father, a war photographer for Time magazine, can visit from Vietnam only sporadically. In the political turbulence of Mao's China and the United States's involvement in Vietnam, Hong Kong is hardly a safe haven, and their mother, overwhelmed by reality, retreats into the isolation of her painting. The sisters are supervised primarily by their amah, and when they decide to escape Ah Bing's watchful eye and explore the marketplace on their own, the consequences are devastating and far-reaching. As the summer progresses, Frankie becomes more and more reckless, and Kate must confront her ambivalence about her role as keeper of secrets and protector for her older sister. The author does a lovely job of exploring their relationship. Her sensuous prose evokes lush landscapes and languid afternoons. She masterfully interweaves peaceful physical beauty with the savage turmoil of war and paints an enthralling picture of the different ways that each family member responds to encroaching chaos. Despite the relatively short length of the novel, it is not a choice for reluctant readers, but teens who are interested in a different perspective on the Vietnam War era and enjoy being immersed in Eastern culture will find much to appreciate in Greenway's first novel. Kim Dare, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat; First Printing edition (January 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802170188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802170187
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Isabelle Rzehulka on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a jewel of a book. From the first paragraph I was drawn in by Greenway's beautifully light and succinct language. Having lived in Hong Kong myself, I could instantly see, smell and hear the mystical atmosphere of the former colony. But "White Ghost Girls" evokes Hong Kong's role as a sensuous backdrop even for those readers who don't know the city. The beauty of the book lies in its shortness. Every phrase is written, every word is chosen with extraordinary talent. The wonderfully poetic language might be perceived as inconsistent with the cruel and heartbreaking events that take place. Yet, it is essential to portray the fragile paradise in which the girls live their carefree lives as well as their relationships to their dreamy yet neglectful mother and their warphotographer father - all of which inevitably leads to disaster. "White Ghost Girls" is both a haunting story of two American teenage sisters experiencing an excruciating incident that changes their life forever, as well as an artistic portray of the cultural, political and social Hong Kong during the Vietnam War. I savored every single page.
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Format: Paperback
I LOVED this book. The language of the author is so beautiful- it feels like poetry. It is also very sensual- I could feel all of my senses participating in this book. Having never been to Hong Kong, I feel like I have experienced this city because of how beautifully this book is written. Not only was the book carefully crafted by its author in terms of its sensual descriptions, but the characters she created were compelling as well. Kate was someone I liked and Frankie was too- even with their flaws. I wanted so badly for things to be different for these girls (through the course of the story), but I was satisfied with how things ended. A beautifully crafted book with a good story and human characters- what more could a reader ask for?
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Two American sisters Frankie 14 and Kate 13 live with their distant self-absorbed mother in Hong Kong in 1967. Their father is a photographer away covering the war in Vietnam. The girls are often left in the care of their Cantonese amah who is ill-equipped to deal with them. They get into all kinds of mischief. As Frankie becomes wilder and wilder Kate becomes the grown up sensible one who tries to save her older sister from her self-destructive behavior. This novel delicately deals with tragedy, sibling rivalry, first love, and some competition between the girls and their mother for their absentee father's affection. Woven into the background of the novel is the Cultural Revolution that manages to spill over from across the border. Interestingly, there were people in Hong Kong enjoying freedom and a high standard of living who paradoxically supported Mao's austere policies. It's short and easy to read but, beautifully written.
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What I liked best about this book is the way the author could describe how someone is feeling in the most understandable terms. What I didn't like about this book is sometimes I wanted more information. The author would write about an island or a beach or some location. But I am not familiar with Hong Kong or Vietnam so I didn't know where it was or if it was 10 minutes away or 6 hours. Also sometimes she would write of items that I didn't know about -- for example lychee fruit -- what does it look like? what does it taste like? do you peel it? etc. Sometimes I couldn't visualize the details in my imagination. But I did love the variety of characters and the rich descriptions of their feelings. It was a nice short book.
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Format: Paperback
I picked this book for our book club (end of last year) and had searched and searched for the 'perfect' book. What drew me to the book were the vivid descriptions the book was supposed to have. I agree - that part was true, but the only reason I gave it a 3 was that it just didn't go over big at all with my club. Our of 8 members, only one really liked it. No one else really 'got' the story, though it is hauntingly and beautifully written. I felt bad because I so wanted to pick a book everyone would just swoon over and they just gave me weird looks.
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This book has some beautiful passages, but it never grabs you with a good story or with characters that you want to learn more about. We read it for book club, and about 30% of the group loved it for its lyricism...but the rest of us, while respecting the skill with which it was crafted, were apathetic to the story. And it's the story that brings me to a book and keeps it on my mind. If it weren't for book club, I would not have finished it, honestly.
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Format: Paperback
This is a lovely book, double-filtered through the eyes of a grown woman looking back and re-living the memories of a thirteen-year-old girl. Sometimes the action is literally underwater; sometimes it only feels that way, as Kate and her sister Frankie move languorously through the thick, humid air of a Hong Kong summer. The relationships between Kate, her sister, their parents, their Chinese nanny, and others are seen as though through the limited awareness and understanding of a 13-year-old, but always shadowed by the grown-up Kate's awareness of what ultimately will happen. The book is short and not a word is wasted. Why only four stars? Because I wanted to know more about the grownup Kate, and how the events of this summer echoed down the canyons of her life. We get a hint, not enough. But maybe that's another book.
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