In 1978, an 11-year-old girl fights poverty and prejudice with gutsy perseverance and talent to fulfill her dream of studying at the Beijing Dance Academy.
Faithful Plum, or Zhongmei, lives in a remote area of China near Siberia. The standard of living is so low that she and her siblings eat one egg a year on their birthdays. She loves to dance, though, and upon hearing that the Academy is holding national auditions she sets her mind on going. And go she does, when a hunger strike and the kindness of her community overcome her parents’ initial refusal. After a horrific three-day journey by trains and buses, Zhongmei comes through the difficult audition only to face an extreme daily regimen of exercise and instruction, an appallingly rigid dormitory supervisor and a ballet teacher scarred by the Cultural Revolution. Fortunately, a wise and kindly administrator recognizes her extraordinary talent. Bernstein, a noted columnist and author of books on China, is married to Zhongmei, who enjoyed a noteworthy career. In his first book for children, he has taken her voice as his own and written a riveting account of her first year at the Academy. The conversations ring true, albeit “imagined,” and events have been compressed to keep the pace flowing.
A fascinating and memorable account of a life and times difficult to imagine today. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-14)