When Roshen, a 16-year-old Uighur girl from northern China, is sent away for a year to work at the Hubei Work Wear Company, a factory in the south, she faces cultural, societal, physical, and psychological challenges far beyond her worst nightmares.
Roshen is proud to be Uighur, an ethnically Turkic enclave with its own language, customs, and culture apart from China’s and whom the Chinese government mistrusts. Before she leaves, Roshen’s beloved, Ahmat, gives her a white jade pendant as a symbol of his faithfulness. Hoping for possible email exchanges, they create secret codes, so as not to arouse governmental suspicion. On route to the factory, Roshen meets Ushi, the cruel Chinese matron who favors the Chinese girls and forbids the Uighur girls to speak their native language—they must only speak Mandarin. Forced to work long and to avoid food the Uighur can’t possibly eat, Roshen bonds with her co-workers, including Mikay, the most outspoken, Zuwida, the most fragile, and Hawa, perhaps the most misunderstood. It is through these friendships that the story engages the most. Roshen’s perseverance sears as she struggles to preserve her sanity and her heritage by remembering and secretly writing Uighur poems in her notebook. The Chinese and Uighur girls’ divisiveness feels familiar when cultures clash. A senior editor at Radio Free Asia contributes an afterword providing context.
A thought-provoking look at oppression and the power of words from a viewpoint not often heard. (author's note) (Fiction. 14-18)