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Review: Dreams of Joy, Lisa See

dreams of joyThis review contains spoilers for Shanghai Girls. This is the sequel to that book.

Joy has just learned that her entire life is a lie. Her parents aren’t really her birth parents and she believe she’s caused her father’s suicide. Unable to bear the consequences and taught the ideals of Mao’s China, Joy flees to Shanghai, convinced she’ll find the life she’s always wanted in the arms of Communism. Pearl, her mother in love if not in body, immediately goes after her daughter. She knows how bad China is, while Joy has no idea. Getting into China is easy; getting out of China is very difficult. As Pearl searches for Joy and Joy searches for meaning, both women end up learning more about who they are and what they treasure most in their lives.

Lisa See’s books have always been great reads, full of the detail and culture of the times they portray and rich with realistic characters. This book is no exception. While we saw the collapse of Shanghai in the last book, in this one we’re witness to how it has changed. I went through a minor obsession with books about China a while ago and this book was a return to a culture that still fascinates me even as it is horrifying. In this book, we’re in the midst of the ‘Great Leap Forward’. American teenager Joy has to accept that the ideals she’d been taught about life in China were wrong, and that life could be immensely harder for her than it had ever been previously. She also has to learn – the hard way – that she isn’t always right, and that stubbornness can lead to huge mistakes.

Meanwhile, it’s Pearl who can see how much the China of her youth has changed, how some things are the same but others are incredibly different. I found all of this fascinating and particularly well done, evoking memories from reading Shanghai Girls a while ago while providing a new, refreshing storyline that breathed different life into characters I already knew. Only May is on the edge of this book; it’s about mother and daughter, here, not about sisters, and the difficulty of parenthood on both sides of the equation.

If you’ve enjoyed other books by Lisa See, you will definitely enjoy this one too. I wouldn’t recommend reading it prior to Shanghai Girls, but it does fill in the gaps reasonably well so I don’t think a newcomer would be lost. Dreams of Joy definitely earns its spot next to her others as a moving story with well-developed characters and thoughtful questions set in a fascinating country.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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