AN OCEAN APART, A WORLD AWAY by Lensey Namioka

AN OCEAN APART, A WORLD AWAY

Age Range: 12 - 16

KIRKUS REVIEW

A determined Chinese girl pursues her dream of a medical education by leaving her family and attending a university in America in the early 1920s. A companion to Namioka’s Ties that Bind, Ties that Break (1999), this opens with Yanyan’s journey to Shanghai to bid farewell to the earlier novel’s heroine as she embarks for San Francisco. The journey sets up the character’s central conflict: even as she envies her friend for her opportunities, she finds herself attracted to a charismatic friend of her Elder Brother’s, and finds that she must choose between her personal ambitions and her admirer. A melodramatic plot twist aids her choice—her admirer turns out to be part of a conspiracy to return the Manchu emperor to the throne—and off she goes to Cornell, where she encounters cultural difficulties aplenty. While the first-person narration is burdened by awkward historical summaries (“After our defeat in the Second Opium War, various countries discovered how weak China really was”), Yanyan’s struggles in the US are compelling. A patronizing student adviser tries to steer her toward home economics and away from physics (“Here at Cornell, we teach young ladies all the womanly arts in order to make them proper wives and mothers”). At the Chinese laundry, she is mistaken for an employee; when corrected, the customer says, “Well, I’ll be doggoned! I did hear there were Chinks at the university.” Despite these narrative flaws, Yanyan emerges as a highly sympathetic character for whom the reader will find herself rooting as she picks her way through her internal doubts and the obstacles set before her by both Chinese and American cultures. An author’s note provides some background on a particularly exciting and turbulent time in Chinese history. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: June 11th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-73002-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002




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