Darkness and Light

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

What’s it about?
A Hundred Flowers is about a family in a formerly well-to-do section of Shanghai. The grandfather is a retired professor. The father has been arrested, taken away, as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution because he wrote a letter suggesting improvements to the local government. It is amazing how much he’s in the story, given his absence. The mother is a healer. She has patients, prescribes them herbs and remedies, and sends them to the doctor when their problems are serious. The son is young and ambitious and climbs a tree, which he then falls out of. He breaks his leg and is bedridden for months. There are neighbors who help out. Another young woman, homeless, gives birth in the house and is taken in, adopted along with her baby.

Why should you read it?
Because Gail Tsukiyama writes about terrible, heavy subjects lightly and gracefully. She takes a huge thing – China during the Cultural Revolution – and turns it into a lovely story about a family and how much they love each other. The seriousness – the Cultural Revolution, sexual abuse, loneliness – combined with her light, lilting writing style is a wonder. Her characters are people whose anger and love are both portrayed intimately and realistically. Her books are amazing.

Derring-do in WWII

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinWhat’s it about?
A young woman – about 20 if my math is correct – becomes an Allied spy in WWII Britain. Her best friend, Maggie, is a pilot. The young woman is captured by the Germans whilst on a mission in France and forced to write a confession. The first half-ish is her confession, and the rest is Maggie’s experiences of the same time frame. It is, as the NYTimes says, “intricately plotted.” After you finish, you want to go back and read it again, just to make sure you got it all.

Why should you read it?
Code Name Verity is a rich story and a great thriller. Will they make it through?  What, exactly, is going on anyway?  I certainly hope that Hollywood adds it to their growing spate of movies from YA novels. It could make a great female action movie that passes the Bechdel test in spades; there would be plenty of women having conversations about war and jobs and family amongst all their derring-do.