When 8-year-old Da’s sister is targeted during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the two siblings flee their hometown for uneasy sanctuary at a remote agricultural school.
This first-person autobiographical account is told in Da’s voice, but the titular girl is his 13-year-old sister, Sisi. The Chens, a landowning family, have been brought low by the social reversal of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Da’s father is in a labor camp, his family is destitute, and their safety is threatened. Da and Sisi’s new school is a respite until a Communist political commissar arrives to oversee the political climate. The situation reaches a graphically violent head when Sisi is brought to testify against their kind principal, who’s been accused of rape, and she must choose between truth and her own safety. Chen’s memoir for adults Colors of the Mountain (1999) was adapted for young adults in 2001 as China’s Son, but this book aims for an even younger audience. While this period in China’s history is heartbreaking and important, the brief explanation of the Cultural Revolution in the prologue may not be enough to allow this age group to fully comprehend the nuances of either the plot or its implications. Terms likely to be unfamiliar to the audience, such as “Marxism,” “bourgeois,” and “feudalism,” are used frequently with little explanation. Lacking deeper contextual insights, the events of this book are merely disturbing.
Young readers won’t miss much by skipping this book and going straight to Chen’s adult memoir when it’s time. (Memoir. 8-12)