Sometimes you read a book and have no idea that it’s going to leave you hanging.
That’s what happened when I read Shanghai Girls by Lisa See recently. The story of Pearl and May Chin trying to build a new life in America while holding onto what happened back home, ended abruptly when Pearl’s daughter, Joy, decides she wants to return to China and help build the People’s Republic of China. She leaves in the middle of the night and when Pearl wakes up to find her gone, she knows exactly what she’s done and basically picks up her life and follows her.
So there’s me nearing the end of Shanghai Girls thinking that there sure is a lot that still needs resolving in these last 20 pages.
That’s because the story wasn’t finished and I wasn’t going to get any resolution from this book.
Thankfully the sequel, Dreams of Joy, already existed – I didn’t have to wait a couple of years for Lisa See to write it.
Dreams of Joy splits the story between Joy, as she returns to China, optimistic about Chairman Mao’s plans to turn the People’s Republic of China into an egalitarian paradise, and Pearl as she follows Joy and does everything she can to try and convince her to come home with her. May, such a big part of Shanghai Girls, is relegated to a background character, her voice an occasional one through the letters and money she tries to send to Joy and Pearl.
I really liked Shanghai Girls (just like I enjoyed China Dolls). I’ve said this before, but Lisa See is extremely adept at creating a really vivid sense of place. And that’s very much true of Dreams of Joy as well – the commune where Joy finds herself is ably brought to life, contrasted by the altered reality of Shanghai where Pearl spends most of her time. But it took me a while to enjoy this story – Joy drove me insane for easily the first half of the book.
Hers is the typical first generation story – she has no idea how much her parents sacrificed in order for her to have the American life she took for granted. At the first opportunity, she runs off to China to throw herself into Communism, despite the warnings from her family about all the terrible things that are actually happening. She is incredibly naive about politics, the reality of the peasant lifestyle she admires so much, even relations between men and women. She digs herself into a hole and is then too proud to do admit she might have been wrong about everything.
I’m also not going to pretend like theme of mother love wasn’t fairly heavy handed through the whole thing. It was pretty clear that See wanted to make the point that there’s nothing a mother won’t do for her child. It’s not until Joy herself becomes a mother that she can see how much her mother gave up for her. That’s when she gets the strength she needs to fix things.
Despite these flaws, there was a point where I did become invested in the outcome. I was already so fond of Pearl from Shanghai Girls and I was glad to witness her finding her own strength. So redeeming was the rest of the book that I even shed some tears at it’s conclusion. At this stage in the game, I’d probably read anything Lisa See wrote and I would still totally recommend Dreams of Joy to other readers.
10 thoughts on “The Surprise Sequel: Dreams of Joy”
I just finished reading The Kitchen God’s Wife. It sounds like this book sort of picks up where the other left off. Winnie left China right before the Communist party came to power, and Joy is heading to China to be a part of it. When does Lisa See’s story start, in Shanghai Girls?
It starts in Shanghai in 1937, right before the Japanese bombed it.
I might have to put The Kitchen God’s Wife on my list – these books have really made me want to read more about this period of China’s history, even through fiction.
If you liked reading about that time in China’s history, then I think you would really like The Kitchen God’s Wife!
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by the ending of Shanghai Girls. Like you, I found it so abrupt. I didn’t know that Dreams of Joy is the follow-up. I’m glad to know that I can now go back and find out what happens to Pearl and Joy. (I suspect I will find Joy a bit annoying, too. I didn’t like her too much in SG.)
It was the worst, not knowing until after I finished it that there was a sequel. At least there was no wait though. And yes, you will not like Joy now either. I felt the same about her in Shanghai Girls but in the end, she was redeemed for me.
There is an autobiography of a communist Chinese girl that reminds me of this book. I think it’s called The Red Scarf. I should look it up.
I actually picked this book on a swap site and then found out it was the sequel and had to go back and request the first! I do hate when that happens though, cause I like to wait til all books are out or at least close before I start any kind of series. I forget details too quickly otherwise!
This keeps happening to me with series! I just realized last night that I have a book by an Icelandic author that I thought was a standalone and is actually the 5th in a series! One of the worst reader problems, for sure.
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