Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?
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.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Books Set in North America
- POC authors