Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong understands poverty and discrimination, having experienced both while growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the early 1900s. Not content to languish in these circumstances, she schemes and plots to enroll in St. Clare’s School for Girls, populated exclusively by privileged white girls. Though she succeeds, her victory is more bitter than sweet as she repeatedly faces racism in different guises.
When the historic 1906 earthquake demolishes San Francisco, barriers between Mercy and her classmates, and between different ethnic groups in the city, begin to crumble. Mercy learns that “catastrophes have the power to equalize us.” As Mercy and her classmates take steps to offer care and hope to those around them, they embody a vision of true community.
Raised by a Christian father and a mother who worships the ancestors, Mercy’s spiritual journey is complex as she wonders where God is in the middle of her losses and in the discrimination she encounters. With revealing insight, Mercy understands that Chinese American people like herself were not the enemy, but “the enemy was our country’s own fear.”
In this young adult novel, Stacey Lee skillfully, compassionately, and at times humorously, portrays a sad chapter in American history through the eyes of an ordinary girl who refuses to be defined by its restrictions. Ages 12 and up. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)