School Library Journal, December 1995
Carla Kozak, San Francisco Public Library
An intimate look at family and village life in southeastern China, approximately 50 years ago. Ying, 10, is raised by her beloved grandmother. Ah Pau is thrifty, wise, and firmly rooted in her culture's traditions and superstitions. She guides Ying and her cousins with a firm and loving hand. As in First Apple (Boyds Mills, 1994), in which the little girl was a year younger, Ying must raise an ambitious amount of money. This time, she must bargain with her mercenary cousin Kee, and deal with the class bully. Added to these burdens is the guilt she feels over the suicide [drowning] of an orphaned, disabled classmate who was exposed as the perpetrator of a theft for which Ying had been accused. It is this guilt that causes Ying to spend the money she and Kee earned on a dead chicken that the classmate's grandmother is trying to sell. There is some awkwardness in the phrasing of the text. The English has a cadence reminiscent of Chinese, or of a beginner's translation of Chinese into English. Although this can be jarring to a sophisticated ear, it somehow increased the authenticity of this personal narrative and glimpse into another culture.
Booklist, October 15, 1995
Based on Russell's own childhood, this moving story continues the chronicle of life in 1940s China for Yeung Ying that began in First Apple. Ying, now 10, is selling chicken fences to raise money to pay for a school wide camp-out. Heading home after a successful day at the market, she passes the poor, sick grandmother of a schoolmate who recently drowned -- an incident that has haunted Ying because she feels partly responsible. Impulsively, Ying spends all her hard-earned money on a dead chicken the woman is selling, leaving herself open to the wrath of her family and the cruel teasing of her schoolmates. Delicate illustrations in washes of gray tones are nicely interspersed through the compelling drama about a passionate protagonist. American youngsters will find Ying's thoughts and actions both foreign and familiar, fueled as they are by a combination of ancient Chinese superstitions and the universal need to fit in. A useful complement to a unit on China.
Multicultural Review, March 1996
Ginny Lee, Fairfield, CA
On the surface, this novel seems to be a good vehicle for portraying Cantonese culture, beliefs, religion, clothing, daily habits, food, common terms relating to food and celebrations, and a few colloquialisms. However, because of a lack of depth of explanation for some of the popular beliefs and for the motives of individual characters, and also because of the quality of language, the plot does not flow as it might, and the characters are not as believable as they might be. The story is about a young girl who wants very much to go to camp with her class. She owes money to her older brother [cousin], who is almost vindictive about demanding repayment. One financial mishap after another keeps her in debt. The family is apparently too poor to come up with the few dollars needed to send her. Her grandmother, steeped in the old beliefs, tells her that the Water Ghost is looking for a victim. Sure enough, a classmate drowns, and the girl feels responsible. She cannot bring herself to offer sympathy to the family, but she spends her profit of several months of basket making to buy a nearly dead hen from the classmate's grandmother as her way of apologizing. It is not that we cannot understand the girl's action. It is the sort of whim one might act on when desperate to make amends and no other way offers itself. But the plot is arranged in such a way as to make the reader feel it is all contrived and improbable. The illustrator is good at portraying clothing, and though his characters sometimes look older than their suggested age, his black-and-white washes add an interesting element to the story.