I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about. I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy's time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.
This book is split into two sections by the earthquake. Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class. She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her. She wants to be able to go to high school. She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school. But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge. She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before.
The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time. She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China. She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city.
I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs. Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go. They end up living in a tent city set up in a park. From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park. There was limited disaster aid at the time. What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own.
The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake. I'm glad she added that because I wouldn't have believed it otherwise. It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before. I understand that the point was the discrimination can't survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything. But it seemed a little too easy in the book. No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief. Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival.
I'd recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco.
This review was originally posted on Based On A True Story
- Started reading
- 3 May, 2017: Finished reading
- 3 May, 2017: Reviewed