Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – By Lisa See

Historical Fiction

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is set in a remote area in Hunan province in nineteenth-century China. At seven years of age, a “so-so” girl named Lily is paired with a well-educated girl as a laotong, or “old same”, to be emotionally matched and friends for life. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a token of her hopes for their relationship in the future in the form of a silk fan. On the fan she writes a poetic greeting in nu shu, an exclusive, ancient language that Chinese women created to communicate in secret, away from the domination of men. Most girls at her age are part of sworn sisterhoods until marriage, but Lily and Snow Flower maintain a relationship for many years, sharing their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments through sending messages on the fan and composing stories on handkerchiefs. They both suffer the torture of foot-binding and together contemplate their arranged marriages, isolation, and the satisfactions and hardships of motherhood. This novel tells the story of their companionship over many years, and how one misunderstanding threatened to tear their laotong-sisterhood to shreds.

This book is both heart-warming and educational. Before reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I knew nothing about Chinese culture, so it was especially fascinating for me to learn about Chinese rituals, systems and traditions. Chinese people, and women especially, lived narrow lives, knowing little about the provence next door let alone the rest of the world, which fascinates me. I felt like I became Lily while embarking on her journey with her, enduring everything she endured. I realised that so many of the women Lily came across  in her life, that at first seemed so passive and thoughtless, were actually amazing people in their own rights. When one woman needs love and care, other women abandon their families to help their friend. They displayed ordinary acts of kindness that the men that surrounded them were not even aware of, which is all the more impressive.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a good book for people who like Asian historical fictions and books about the feminist struggle. It is not good for people who like fast-paced books, or a book that discusses in detail the politics or way of life of men in China, as it is thoroughly based on women. I would recommend this book for people in their mid to late teens and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Slow/Medium

The Matched Series – By Ally Condie

Dystopian, Romance

The Matched Series is a dystopian romance about Cassia, a teenage girl who lives in the Society, where the deterministic government have taken away choice and decide everything for its citizens. Cassia has always believed in the Society, and when she is matched to her best friend Xander, her belief grows ever stronger… until another face flashes on the matching screen for just a moment. Suddenly she has a choice thrust upon her. Who will she choose? Xander or Ky? The Society or rebellion?

The Matched books: Matched, Crossed and Reached, are beautifully constructed, especially Reached, because it is narrated in turn by each of the three main characters: Cassia, Xander and Ky. Perhaps you could guess which partner she will choose, as this choice has existed since The Garden of Eden, between the accepted and approved, and the illicit and forbidden. What makes this version of the famous dilemma different is the way the choice manifests why she made it.

This book is good for people who like easy-reading, dystopian books, and romantic novels. This book is not good for people who want brilliant pieces of literature, or very slow or fast-paced books. I would recommend the Matched Series for people 12 years old and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA

Writing: AAAAA

Pace: Medium

Rules of Civility – By Amor Towles

Romance

Rules of Civility, set in 1938, pursues the life of Katey Kontent, an aspirational twenty-five-year-old. Brought up in Brooklyn as Katya, Katey is determined to make a better life for herself. Her wit and grace take her from a secretarial pool at a law firm to a distinguished assistant’s post at a glittering new Condé Nast magazine. The story opens on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village Jazz Bar, where Katey and her boarding-house roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a clean-cut, handsome young banker. It is Katey’s evolving relationship with Tinker that provides the core of the book and the basis of its themes: the illusion of glamour and the decadence of the wealthy, as shockingly exposed in one scene.

Rules of Civility is a Great-Gatsby-Style novel that discusses class, society and fitting in. I loved how it was grounded throughout on the theme that you can never run away from your past. Although Katey, the narrator and character at the forefront of the story, wants to be better than her past and her background, she also knows that the past will always be a part of her whether she likes it or not. Katey’s surname reflects her personality perfectly: she has content and is substantive, and she is content with herself. Although she strives for more, she is grounded, and has no self-delusions. Rules of Civility is an engaging book with appealing characters.

This book is good for people who like The Great Gatsby, and who like Romantic, 30s novels. This book is not good for people who like slow-paced books. I would recommend this book for people in their mid to late teens and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Medium/Fast

Sweet Tooth – By Ian McEwan

Romance

Sweet Tooth is an intricate merge of spy interaction and romance, installed into a brilliant piece of literature. This book is about a young woman, Serena Frome, who gets referred to MI5, and is dispatched on a mission – Sweet Tooth –  to further the culture segment of the Cold War. Her mission sends her to Tom Haley – a promising young writer. Love begins to intertwine with her professional life, and before long she is in love with Haley himself. As this increasingly affects her mission, she must make the crucial decision of whether to trust him or not – breaking the principal law of espionage.

The book is neither about spies nor lovers, but about social interactions and honesty. Serena is likeable and relatable, yet at times annoying. She is never quite sure on her feet with what decisions to make. However, she is very honest with herself, and strives to be honest with others, which is why I think she is not suited to the secret service. Overall, I found this book to be highly insightful and thought-provoking. In a strange sense, it reflected life and love beautifully.

This book is good for people who enjoy love stories. It’s good for people who like a medium-paced book that is not so gripping as it is thought-provoking. This book is not good for people who want a ‘spy novel’, because it’s approach to the genre is so different from the norm. I would advise this book for upper teens and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAAAA

Pace: Medium

Popular – By Maya Van Wagenen

Non-Fiction

Popular is a memoir about a girl who is given a sixty-year-old handbook about how to be popular. She decides that she is sick of always being in the background, and not being able to make friends. After a challenge from her mom, she embarks on a year-long journey with her aim being to find out the definition of ‘popularity’, and in the process become popular herself.

Given its title, Popular is surprisingly endearing and thought-provoking. Initially, I feared this book would pursue bitchy, shallow, self-obsessed popularity. However, I was pleasantly surprised in finding it predominantly about self-confidence and kindness. Van Wagenen displays  humility and humour that enhances the reader’s connection to the book.

This book is good for people that struggle with self-confidence. Even if you don’t, it’s so light-paced and funny you’ll probably enjoy it anyway. This book is not good for people who seek sophistication and multi-layered plots. Popular is for all ages: for kids who want tips, and for adults who want to reminisce.

My Ratings (out of 10 As): 

Plot/Story: AAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAAA

Pace: Medium