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Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

AuthorLisa See

Year Published: 2017

Category: Adult fiction (historical fiction
Pages: 384
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) China, Laos, USA (CA)

Summary (from Amazon): Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.

Review: Normally I would read a Lisa See book immediately, but for some reason this one has sat on my TBR shelf for 4 years. Silly me for waiting so long! Lisa See just does not disappoint. 

Lisa See does such a wonderful job of weaving a tale, bringing disparate characters together in a way that seems natural, and introducing us to new cultures along the way. In this novel we learn about the customs, traditions, history, and current day roles of the Akha, a Chinese minority group who live in the Yunnan province mountains as well as in Thailand, Laos, and Burma/Myanmar. The thing this group is most famous for is tea. Yes, tea. If you had asked me to care about tea, I would have said no. but, See got me interested, staying up late and getting up early to fit in reading time around my work schedule.

Li-yan is a character that I could really care about. I wanted her to learn, to love, to explore, to be accepted, and to find success. And the cast of characters that fills her life help the reader to understand her and her experiences better. They are relevant, we get to know a lot about them, and they propel the story along.

The village of Spring Well and the larger region of China are a character in and of themselves. The terrain, the tea, and the weather all play a role in making Li-yan who she is, how she lives, and her path in life. I could really picture the people and place as I read this book.

If you are a Lisa See fan, I highly recommend this book. And if you haven't read her books yet, what are you waiting for?!

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Diversity--Asian characters (April challenge: East Asian)
  • Popsugar--I saw this book on someone else's shelf

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