Every day Ting would rush home from school, hoping to see a letter from Mama…Finally, on Friday…Mei Yima met her at the door with a big smile on her face.
“Your mama has called all the way from Vancouver, Canada. She is with your baba and they’re very happy to be together. They both send their love…”
Part of Ting was happy because she now knew Mama was safe, but another part of her felt unsettled. There were so many questions she had, so many things she needed to know…Was [Baba] eating enough? Who knew what strange food they were serving in that faraway place! Was he succeeding at school? She worried that maybe he would not be able to keep up since he spoke almost no English.
And was he warm enough? They had studied Canada at school last year, and she remembered it was a cold country with strange houses called igloos. Were her parents staying in an igloo? Were they safe? Their teacher last year had taught them about the fights between the native people and the early settlers and traders. Ting knew that had all happened a long time ago, but there might still be some hard feelings, much like many Chinese still harbored hard feelings toward the Japanese because of what they did during the war. Was it safe to encounter one of these natives, or might they still be angry enough to harm someone? There were so many things she wondered about, and now she might have to wait until Mama returned to find out the answers.
Eight-year-old Ting lives happily in China with her baba and mama. Life is as sweet as the hawthorn berry candy she loves — her aunties and grandfather are near, she excels at school, and her world of stick candy and Thousand Buddha Mountain, tofu soup and trips to the beach is deliciously familiar and delightful.
Piece by piece, though, Ting’s world is disassembled. First, Baba leaves for two years of study in far-off Canada — such a strange place, from all she’s heard. Next, Mama flies off for a one-month visit to Baba, leaving Ting in the care of her aunts. Finally, everything unravels when the violence of Tiananmen Square erupts while Mama is away. It’s too dangerous for either Baba or Mama to return to China. Instead, Ting is packed off to begin a new life with them in Vancouver.
As she steps off the plane, Ting is engulfed in a foreign world. A world where milk can be white or brown, where children have hair without any color to it, where people use forks rather than chopsticks and set up dead trees in their homes at Christmastime. Above all, a world of English, so difficult to understand and to pronounce; and a world in which her engineer father and doctor mother are reduced to embarrassing poverty. It takes Ting’s determination to learn the new Canadian ways, plus the immense kindness and generosity of new neighbors and friends, to arrive at a place of belonging.
Kristie Hammond’s story is inspired by the true events in her daughter-in-law’s life. She keenly describes both the Chinese world that is originally Ting’s home, and the world of Vancouver as seen through a brand new immigrant’s eyes. Many details of tastes and sounds and experiences give a wonderfully authentic flavor to the story. Perhaps the best part of the book is that sensitive insight into the way familiar things look to someone new; how overwhelming, challenging, and mortifying a new culture can be; and equally, how richly welcome are the kindness, friendliness, and sage generosity of people who reach out to newcomers. I also loved the references to hockey and Anne of Green Gables that worked their ways into this novel! Go, Canada!
This is a quiet-ish book, largely an amiable look at Ting’s life during a year awash in transition. Sadness and frustration are woven in, but the overall tone is upbeat. Readers or listeners who demand gobs of action or riveting suspense may not gush over it, but particularly for those who relish an intriguing peek at culture, who have experienced life as a Third Culture Kid, or who want to understand the newcomers in their spheres — it’s a pleasant read. It leans toward a girl audience, ages 8 and up. Independent readers — perhaps a 5th grade level.
Brand new in the past month, published in Canada by Sononis press, your best bet is to order it from them with free shipping to North American addresses, or from Amazon.