Culling through my shelves recently, I found Cynthea Liu's young adult book, The Great Call of China which I apparently bought at a SCBWI-Carolinas event in 2009.
It's about time I read it!
This is the fourteenth in a fifteen book series published by Penguin from 2005-2010, S.A.S.S. (Students Across the Seven Seas). This multi-author series features a student studying abroad in a different country.
Liu's book stars Cece who travels to China to study her passion--anthropology. But the trip has special meaning for Cece. She wants to go to the Beijing orphanage where she spent her first two years. She hopes to find her biological parents--without her parents knowing about it.
Cecil's guilt and ambivalence of finding her biological parents is a theme throughout the book. Her search for her family is an interesting backdrop to her love for anthropology. Both involve her digging for the truth; and both present challenges and obstacles.
In a moment of reflection in the middle of the book, Cece is visiting The Bell Tower in Xi'an where four major roads cross. (Note: this is a great example of using a setting to reflect a character's emotions. In this case, the crossroads show Cece's indecision. I just discovered this symbolism in One Stop for Writers!). She is thinking about Jess (her roommate) and Will (her crush who seems more interested in Jess than in her.)
Cece leaned against the balcony rail, studying them [elderly adults doing tai chi] a while longer. Then she looked past the square, at the citizens crowding the streets, the signs written in Chinese and the bikes, buses, and cars...It was all so different from everything she knew, and it made her wonder if China would ever feel like a place where she could belong. Like she could be a part of this country, too.
She listened to the bell ring over the city.
Then she saw her purpose here with more clarity than ever before. Who cared what happened with Will and Jess? It was trivial compared to what she was about to embark upon in Beijing in a couple of weeks. She would be getting a chance to learn more about herself, and that was what she should be thinking about. (p.100)Jess's story is an interesting counter-balance to Cece's. A little on the wild side, Jess is only in the summer program to try and make her father happy. When her grades don't meet his expectations, she pulls out of the program with a decision to follow her dreams of attending design school.
In a candid conversation before she leaves, Jess tells Cece:
"You're so lucky, Cece. Your parents--they don't care about all that. They're just glad they have you, right? And they probably loved you unconditionally since they got you." (p.215)Seeing herself through the Jess' eyes, Cece grows in self-awareness and realizes what she still needs to do.
The romance which eventually develops between Cece and Will is sweet, does not overpower the story, and is written without sexual overtones. Although the book is listed as young adult, I think girl readers in the upper range of middle school will enjoy it also.
If you want to win my gently-read autographed copy of The Great Call of China for yourself or your favorite 7-9th grade female reader, leave me a comment by June 3. Please leave your email address if I don't have it. As usual, if you share this on social media or become a follower of my blog, let me know what you have done and I'll enter your name twice.