Fay Wong, a biracial girl caught between the worlds of her Chinese father and her African mother, comes of age in 1930s Jamaica.
When 9-year-old Fay is caught visiting one of her father’s opium dens, her mother is furious and beats her. This pattern of violence continues throughout Fay’s childhood. Wearied by the constant physical abuse, Fay finds her only comfort from the family’s maid, Sissy, until Sissy’s departure when Fay is 13. Since Fay’s father refuses to protect her, she eventually comes up with the idea of becoming a boarder at her Catholic high school so she won’t have to return home. Fay is safe and relatively happy for a while, until she falls into a relationship after graduation with a British expat; his return to England just before Fay’s 21st birthday is painful. Then her parents agree to marry her off to Chinese businessman Yang Pao. Stunned, Fay enlists in the British army as an act of independence, only to be forced into unwilling espionage. Young's third novel (Gloria, 2013, etc.) is a unique portrayal of Jamaica in that it doesn't focus only on black and white residents. But despite this potential for complexity, Young can't help falling into stereotypical representations of both Asian men and black women: Fay’s African mother is described as “trying to get comfortable in a seat designed for slender Chinamen, not African women of my mother’s proportions.” In addition, the characters are most often one-dimensional. There are the rich, light-skinned, self-centered private school girls, the clueless father, and the abusive mother. The writing is tremendously detailed—a clear testament to the author’s persistence of vision—but as a whole the novel is plodding and uneven.
An ambitious work that unfortunately disappoints.