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Book Review: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See (4/5)

20 Aug

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Shanghai Girls, and enjoyed hearing the author speak. It seemed about time to read another Lisa See book and picking up Dreams of Joy was an easy choice. I listened to this one on audio on my phone and ended up taking a two-week break for my trip before I came back and finished it up.

Cover image via Wikipedia

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2) by Lisa See

Other books by See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (Book Club Reflection [twice], meeting the author)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

This book picked up right where Shanghai Girls left off so I’m glad I remembered that ending. I liked that there was something after because the ending of the first book was so abrupt and open-ended. I felt this one had a better ending. I liked the way the story unfolded. It really highlighted Joy and how much she changed during the book. She grew up a lot and had to learn lessons the hard way, the way Pearl had learned them, even though Pearl tried to protect her from that.

I thought Pearl’s reactions to what happened were very realistic but I felt Joy was a bit too oblivious to what was happening around her. I understand that she was young and a bit idealistic, but it was a bit too much for me. By the end, she was more realistic but it was only to be expected after what happened to her in the village. I thought her ‘youthful optimism’ was a bit over the top.

Pearl was such a good mother, I really loved her character, what she did, and what she was willing to endure to make sure her family was safe. Even though Joy’s story was more dramatic, I loved Pearl’s struggles to return home to China, it felt much more realistic and showed the huge change in Shanghai between this book and the first one.

I don’t share a lot in common with these characters but I was still able to connect with them. Joy’s excitement at contributing to a new idea was relatable as was Pearl’s concern for her family and taking care of her child. See did a good job of developing characters in an environment I’ll never encounter whose shoes I could see myself in. I really commend her for the women in this book.

Lisa See and I

I thought the second half after Joy gets married, was more interesting than the first. Her idealism around communist China disintegrates quickly and her panic, fear, and desperation made me read faster. It was hard to read about some of the suffering going on in the rural parts of the country, though. I found myself clutching my hand to my heart on several occasions.

I thought the speed at which Joy found ZG was too unrealistic. Honestly, it a city that size, it should have taken some time. Even with his fame, it should have been more difficult to locate him. It started the book out on a rough note for me and it took a while to recover from that.

This audiobook was narrated by Janet Song. If I’d listened to audio of the first one, I would have heard her read that, too. I heard Song before when she narrated another See book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I guess she has the corner on the See audiobook market! She did a great job before and I enjoyed her narration again. She’s good at putting emotion into the characters and showing their fear, joy, and frustration. If I read more See, I bet I listen to more Song.

Mother-daughter love was a theme of Shanghai Girls and See brings it back in this book. What Pearl does for her daughter is almost unimaginable. The danger she puts herself into and the risks she takes would only be taken by a mother for a child. Daughters are reflections of their mothers and Joy grows to be more and more like her mother as the book goes on.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think See balanced the two stories well. There was a potential for Joy’s story to overtake the narrative because it was more dramatic than Pearl’s. See balanced the chapter lengths and gave a good plot line to Pearl to keep her story interesting and progressing. I think this balance could have been poorly managed by a less experienced writer but See did it wonderfully.

This book kept me engaged and reading (listening) and I really enjoyed listening to it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
The Surprise Sequel: Dreams of Joy | The Paperback Princess
Lisa See Explores the Concept of Love in Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy | cultcrumbs