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May 13, 2010

Reading SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See

Posted by Dana

shanghaigirls.jpgYears ago, when I owned an independent bookstore, we started several book clubs.  One of them, which was only known as the CBTB Main Book Club (the store was called Coffee Buy The Book) still lives on.  I haven't made it to a meeting in many months unfortunately, but I love the group and I try to keep up via email at least.  I also, often say "this month I'm going to come" and I buy the book and I read it.  Sadly, it's wishful thinking as I seem to always have a conflict on that night or can't finish the book in time.  Alas, the group is very diverse and really does stick to talking about the book so I know I'm missing some great discussions. 

A couple of months ago the ladies chose SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See.  I had been wanting to read Lisa See ever since SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN came out and I figured this was my chance.  So I bought the book and dove in.  And then I got pulled in about 12 different directions and missed the meeting and only finished the book weeks later.  That's where you come in.  Since I missed the meeting, and I know many of you have already read the book, I thought we could talk about it here.

Let me start with this... I'm not 100% sure if liked the book or not, but I am glad I read it.  I think there were aspects I liked and some I didn't all of which may have been intentional on the author's part.  For example, I didn't like the ending.  I figured out very early on what "the big secret" was and I kept expecting it to come to light in a major climatic scene or shift in thinking.  It didn't.  That was dissappointing. **SPOILER ALERT**.  I mean, I think that Sam finding out who Joy's real parents were could have dramatically changed things.  He never did.  Would the choice he makes at the end have been different had he known?  And what is with the ending being so up in the air?  Is Joy safe?  Do they come back to the US?  I felt unsatisfied.  You know kind of like I signed up for cheesecake and got salad instead.  Good salad, but still... not satisfying.

I did think the relationship between sisters Pearl and May was believable.  I liked the fact that in the middle of crazy, scary situations like the girls were in that they still acted like sisters for better and for worse.

As for the characters, Pearl was the only character who was fully developed since she is the narrator and we hear her thoughts.  Everyone else is purposefully one-sided as we only get Pearl's take on them.  And though I cared about Pearl AND May, I often found myself annoyed by Pearl's self-righteous and sometimes self-pitying choices and I was kind of glad when May finally calls her out on it in the end.  The downside of that whole thing for me was that I'm not sure Pearl grew from it at all, so what was the point?

May was a bit of a mystery for me.  I wanted to know more about what she did and where she went when she wasn't with Pearl. 

I could go on and on.  I'd love to hear what you thought of the sisters and of the book as a whole! 

-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor