A pleasant but unremarkable work of immigrant literature.



Choy’s second novel, about growing up Chinese in Canada, is a companion piece to his prize-winning debut (The Jade Peony, 1997).

In his debut, Choy focused on three children in Vancouver’s Chinatown before WWII; here, he revisits that family, the Chens, from a different perspective. Narrator Kiam-Kim is only three in 1926 when he arrives in Canada with his father and his grandmother, Poh-Poh; they are fleeing famine and war, and the disintegration of China will form the story’s backdrop. They have been sponsored by Third Uncle, a prosperous warehousing merchant who finds them accommodations. Kiam’s mother died young. Father must not marry again, to avoid upsetting his wife’s ghost (“Ghosts and Old China haunted us”), but a companion is arranged for him, to be known as Stepmother. She will give birth to a girl and then a boy; along with an adopted orphan, they form the trio of The Jade Peony. Superficially, this is Kiam’s story, the First Son who must set an example, and who has an unusual best friend in Jack O’Connor, the white boy who lives next door. Kiam experiences the familiar adolescent rites of passage, such as the showdown with a deadly street gang and heavy petting with Chinese neighbor Jenny, though no actual dates, for they would involve older escorts (“Chinatown’s idea of birth control”). Bound by this web of family and neighbors, Kiam’s questioning of traditional mores is limited, even as he is upstaged by Poh-Poh, who dominates the novel; Father and Stepmother are ciphers beside her. Not only does she decide Stepmother’s duties, she inculcates in the children the significance of ghosts and curses (her own curses are legendary). Before her death, she tells Kiam the painful secret of how Father was conceived, and it takes a full-dress ceremony to exorcise her ghost.

A pleasant but unremarkable work of immigrant literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-59051-215-4

Page Count: 454

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Did you like this book?