The Bookends

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

By Lisa See

Li-yan is one of few educated women on her mountain in China. Her family is Akha, a Chinese ethnic minority. They are few in number and in such a remote area that most people do not even know they exist. Tradition is essential to the Akha people, but circumstances make it impossible for everything to stay the same. Li-yan will face important decisions and challenges when she finds that she is pregnant out of wedlock. She goes against tradition and gives her baby up in the nearest city. The only clue to her daughter’s origin is the tea cake that was in her swaddling when found by the city’s orphanage. Mother and daughter will spend many hours wondering and searching for each other as they lead very different lives.

PAM This book drew me, as I am always a fan of Lisa See. This story felt different to me than her others and took me a while to become immersed in the characters and the plot. Have you read other Lisa See books? Did you find this to be the case for you, as well?

BECKY I have read a few of her previous books and am a fan of her writing. This story did have a different feel but I enjoyed the unique culture of this village and the education on the tea industry. I didn’t have a problem connecting with the story at the beginning of the book. Actually, I did some light research regarding some of the topics in this story because I found it so interesting. Did you enjoy the picture she painted about a remote mountain village and all of their superstitions and traditions?

PAM I found the culture of this area very intriguing. I was drawn to look a little deeper into the tea that Li-yan and her village makes in this story. Being a tea drinker myself, I found it fascinating to explore the history and images of tea cakes. Li-yan’s mother is the healer and midwife for the village and Li-yan is expected to follow in the footsteps. As she is just beginning her training, she witnesses the tragic results of one of the superstitions of their culture. She cannot reconcile this is her mind. Do you feel that this was the turning point that would eventually lead her to a very different path?

BECKY Li-yan was not naturally attracted to the idea of becoming a healer for the village and the events of that day confirmed her desires to become something more than what the village expected of her. The opportunity for her to continue her formal education would open doors for her but the pull of love ultimately won. Going against tradition and superstition of the village, her mother helped Li-yan hide her pregnancy and ultimately the delivery of a baby girl. The story up to this point is easy to read and interesting. However, the next part of the story takes a turn to a darker time during her life. Did you like the writing up to this point?

PAM The writing style allowed me to picture Li-yan’s village and feel strong emotions around the events in her life. While reading about this culture, sometimes it was frustrating that the traditions did not allow for the villagers to have choices during life events. We saw this many times during Li-yan’s life. Did you find this frustrating? Or were you better able to separate our culture from that of the Akha?

BECKY I thought the author did a great job of transporting us to another culture. Although my American mind did not agree with the lack of value a female had in this time, I was easily transported into her life and culture. This story covers a great deal of time as we journey through her life from a young girl to an adult. The most interesting part of this book for me is the adopted daughter’s storyline. Li-yan’s baby is adopted by an American couple and named Haley. Her story is not the focus of the book but I found the struggles and displacement issues of adoption to be fascinating. I wanted to know more about her story and challenges. Do you feel like there was enough told or where you also hoping for more?

PAM I felt that Haley’s story had a great start and we began to understand some of her challenges and feelings. This was an interesting (and different) side to the main portion of the story of Li-yan’s life. However, Haley’s feelings and challenges as an adopted child from another culture would have been a very interesting area to expand upon. We also caught a glimpse into the feelings of Haley’s adoptive parents and their challenges. Do you think the author explored this complicated side of adoption deeply enough? Or would you have liked to see this as a larger aspect of the story?

BECKY I definitely wanted to know more about Haley and the complicated desire to know and understand her natural mother’s situation. Lisa See gave us a peek into the various emotions of adoption from the natural mother’s point of view, the adopting parents and Haley’s. Even though I wanted to explore this more, it would have been overwhelming to add such a complex topic to this story that is already covering a large block of time. Was the ending what you expected and are you satisfied with the way we said goodbye to this story?

PAM The ending to this story was what I had hoped, however, I always love an epilogue and would have enjoyed a little peek with this story. I did feel the author brought together and wrapped up the many different storylines. After having the opportunity to explore this culture, what will we be discussing next month?

BECKY For October we will read, In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware. A small group will get together for a bachelorette party at a house in the woods. Forty-eight hours later, one person is shot and another is in the hospital with amnesia. What happened in those two short days?

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