Saturday, November 3, 2012

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Taiwanese workers have been fixing the leaking hot water pipes in our apartment. Custom is to not wear shoes inside apartments, but I cringe thinking they will slice open their foot on the shards of bricks, concrete and tiles scattered on the floor. I point to the tennis shoes I'm walking around in and say, "Okay... shoes." Then I give the thumbs up. They laugh and I noticed over the course of a week them eventually wearing shoes inside the apartment. While I like this custom of removing shoes, I think exceptions are okay too. The joy of living overseas is this sharing of cultures and I love how Grace Lin mixes Asian customs and blends cultures in a seamless way in her novels. This story takes Chinese folklore and weaves it into a storyline so masterfully that if you aren't familiar with them, you would think Lin made the stories up. 

Rendi has run away from home and ends up in a remote village as a chore boy at an Inn. He is horribly angry with his father's choices. At the village Inn Rendi meets people who care about each other and who are also dealing with their own problems. Peiyi's mom has died. Master Chao fights with his neighbor, Widow Yang, and his son left after they had a horrible argument. MeiLan, Widow Yang's daughter, must secretly be friends with Peiyi and is in love with Master Chao's son. Mr. Shan is an old man who eats at the Inn every day and is getting more and more confused as the days go by. Worst of all the moon is missing and Rendi hears the night wind moaning and groaning so he can't sleep. When the mysterious Madame Chang arrives at the Inn she tells stories that not only entertain the guests but help heal their troubles. When Rendi joins in with his own stories he finds healing in a way he didn't expect.

Grace Lin's use of images such as prayer beads, dragon's pearl, lychees, peach symbol of longevity, and more, creates a setting rooted in Asian culture. Yet the themes are universal and abundant. Characters are searching for peace, acceptance, family, wisdom, belonging, and forgiveness. While this is mainly Rendi's story, she entangles all the stories in such a way that I found myself going back to reread what happened in a previous story because it applied to a future story. The complexity of how Lin interconnects these stories and characters makes for a terrific plot. 

Those who read Lin's book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, will recognize Magistrate Tiger, the White tiger, and the old sage, but this story seemed more complex because of the plotting.  Lin's character's are engaging and interesting from the tension caused by their internal changes. Rendi has to make choices on his attitude toward others, the way he wants to live his life, and decision to forgive others, and what it means to "return home." Rendi grows into a better person from his experiences and I can't help but think of my own life of living overseas, growing as an individual, and eventually "returning home." 

There's a lot of Newbery buzz around this one. I can see why.

5 out of 5 stars
Reading level 5.8

No comments:

Post a Comment