Review and Giveaway: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls: A Novel by Lisa See (Random House, 2009), 336 pages

Pearl and May are sisters, through and through. They’re together in everything, all the time. Having grown up in Shanghai — “the Paris of Asia” — they think of themselves as thoroughly modern and disdain their parents old, traditional ways. They pose for calendar photos and paintings. And then what they thought impossible happens. They’re forced into a life they had rejected.

While on the surface, this book purports to be about beautiful girls, immigrating to the United States, Chinatown (Los Angeles) and family, in reality these things are just the stage for a tale of sibling rivalry, secrets, fear, pain, delusion. It’s tragic. Dark.

The story is vividly drawn, the history, the characters and the backdrop. It was a good book, but I didn’t enjoy it much. The book contains some brutal scenes. And while I didn’t love reading these, I didn’t really struggle. They’re surely accurate, even appropriate to include. What I didn’t like was how the characters reacted.

I went back and forth, at one point thinking the writing helped ease the pain of the narrative and at others thinking the writing exacerbated the tragedy for the reader.

In my head I was yelling at the main character probably 50 percent of the time (or more). The rest of the time I was yelling at some other character.

I didn’t love the role (however minor) that religion played in the book.

I enjoyed this book more than you’d think from reading this. I wonder, though: If Lisa See hadn’t tried for such a long tale, in terms of time encompassed, would some of the pieces be more fleshed out, more fully realized? I understand that this is contrary to some of what she was aiming for with this book, but I still wonder.

Read the first chapter of Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls.

About the author
Lisa See is the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. Her Flower Net was an Edgar Award nominee — I had no idea she wrote mysteries! After Flower Net come Interior and Dragon Bones. Her memoir is On Gold Mountain. She lives in Los Angeles.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.

Other reviews (most of which are more positive than this one)
She Is Too Fond of Books
Devourer of Books
Books on the Brain
Booking Mama
Peeking between the Pages
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook
S. Krishna’s Books
A Novel Menagerie

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

The publisher has offered 2 copies of the book as giveaways (U.S./Canada only) to my readers! Comment here about the book (or my review) for a chance to win.

The giveaway will end next Thursday, January 28, when I’ll randomly select a winner.

I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour.

Edited to add: This giveaway is now closed, winners has been chosen.


16 responses to “Review and Giveaway: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

  1. Well, if nothing else, your review has made me very curious. You’re not the first person to say this is a dark story.

  2. Hi Hannah, I read it last spring and really loved it. I’m puzzled over what you said about religion- I don’t remember any reference but it’s been nearly a year since I read it (I’m losing brain cells every day!). ANYway, interesting review. I agree the story is dark and has disturbing moments, but for me it was great. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more.

    Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into reading and reviewing Shanghai Girls. It is greatly appreciated.

  3. Pingback: TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for the week of January 18th-22nd | TLC Book Tours

  4. I’m intrigued. A good friend of mine recently read it and she said that although it was heavy reading, it was well done. Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. This novel was recommended to me as another that I might want to consider for a high school curriculum. What do you think?

  6. There were some darks scenes, which, as you say, were accurate/appropriate to what people may have experienced in those situations. Some were really tough to read (one I read the foreshadowing, another – wow! that surprised me!).

    I really enjoyed SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN which also had some graphic scenes. I haven’t yet read PEONY IN LOVE, but it’s on my wish list … have you read either of these?

    BTW, I really like the way you’ve done your feeds in the sidebar, breaking them into categories 🙂

  7. I’ve heard so many great things about this book so I’m really excited to read it. Please enter my name in your draw. Thanks.

  8. I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you. Yours is not the first disappointed review I’ve read. I think I’ll pass on this one.

  9. Interesting review, Wordlily. Although this novel has some very dark spots (like life) it is ultimately about hope and survival.

    I also reviewed it on my blog. No need to enter me in this giveaway as I already have Shanghai Girls.

  10. I have owned this book since it came out, but I still haven’t read it. I really must find time to do so!

  11. I read Snow Flower and loved it. I’d like to read this one also, although I have heard it is rather heavy. Thanks for the giveaway.

  12. I’ve read Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and I’m looking forward to reading Shanghai Girls! I’d love to enter! Thanks!

  13. Pingback: Words from my reading « Word Lily

  14. I think I liked this better than you did, but I liked See’s other books better. My review is here:

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