Booklist, March 15, 1997
In a sequel to First Apple and Water Ghost, 10-year-old Ying, who lives with her grandmother, uncle, and cousins, faces new challenges. The lichee tree planted for her as a symbol of hope when she was small is ready to bear fruit. She dreams of selling the fruit and traveling to distant Canton, a place she imagines to be full of exotic sights and people. But when a greedy landowner wants to make her older cousin his concubine and destroy Ying's family, the tree takes on a different significance. This story about a girl's coming-of-age amid family secrecy and the social turmoil of China in the 1940s is both realistic and lyrical. Its characters are beautifully realized, and in spite of their distant backdrop, they have a universal appeal.
School Library Journal, June 1997
Margaret Chang, North Adams State College, MA
Ying, the heroine of First Apple (1994) and Water Ghost (1995, both Boyds Mills) now contends with problems that even her formidable energy and resourcefulness cannot overcome. She lives with her grandmother, Ah Pau, in a rural village in southern China. Although the adults try to protect Ying, she learns that a sinister man nicknamed Ghost Walk wants her lovely cousin Ah So as his second concubine. Only after Ah So disappears and Ying finds a bloody shirt stashed behind the door does her grandmother tell her that her cousin ran away to Canton with her true love, after he was severely beaten by Ghost Walk's henchmen. Ghost Walk extorts money and property from Ying's family in revenge. Her uncle's store is forfeited, as is their house, with Ying's beloved lichee tree. Life in this isolated village is vividly depicted through specific details about friends, school, food, work, and play. While the notion that a single strongman can terrorize a village might seem extraordinary, Ying's need for knowledge, safety, and security are poignantly familiar. Ying's maturing love for Ah Pau, whose strength and practical wisdom holds the family together, forms a more realistic narrative trajectory than the plot, which comes to a rather implausible--yet satisfying--conclusion. More complex than Russell's earlier books, this new title is valuable for its engaging heroine and its unique setting.
Multicultural Review, September 1997
Yeung Ying is ten years old and lives with her grandmother, aunt and uncle, and cousins in a small, poor village in China. A wealthy but mean man known to all as "Ghost Walk" wields all the power in town, including the power to snatch young girls from the arms of their families for his concubines, and the power to make grown men flee in fear if they cross his path. As the family deals with Ghost Walk, they inexplicably refuse to tell Yeung Ying anything of what is going on, leaving her--and the reader--angry and in the dark. The story has merit. It is interesting to a Western audience as a minor revelation of what it is like to grow up in a small village in the hinterlands of China, never seeing a foreigner and longing to go to the big city to buy beads. If it were excellently written, it might throw the same light on China as Tom Sawyer threw on Mississippi River village life. There are even some moments of universal wisdom, as when the grandmother says, "Well, I cannot read or write, but I have learned how to survive. If something is gone, I try not to mourn over it. I start over. If things break, I don't just throw them away, I fix them. If things are going badly, I look forward to the turning point. I know there must always be a turning point." The novel has the many annoying qualities of a mediocre high school composition. There are flaws in the plot and inconsistencies of characterization. Nonetheless, let us give Russell credit for having made a noble attempt to express, in a language not native to her, the personal tidbits of life growing up in a small village in China, which would otherwise be inaccessible to us in the West.