The story is fairly simple to describe, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. The main character, Lucia, and her older sister, Miranda, are first-generation immigrants to the USA. Their mother comes to America from China after her husband is killed in a car accident. Miranda is a young girl and the mother is pregnant with Lucia at the time of their immigration. When their mother dies of cancer, the girls have to make their own way.
It’s not a simple immigration story, however. Lucia is mentally ill and when her illness becomes evident, the novel is really about her journey through mental illness, and how it affects everyone in her orbit.
The story is narrated in sections, each one focused on a different character. Some are from Lucia’s perspective, some are from Miranda’s, and some are from the point of view of the men in Lucia’s life.
A great deal happens in this book, and there are quite a few characters, yet Lee never loses control of the narrative arc. It never gets confusing or loses its way. That’s quite an accomplishment for any novelist, let alone a first-time novelist.
It’s a wonderful read, yet of course, it’s devastating to see the effects Lucia’s battle has on everyone in her life. I felt for each character in turn, especially in the sections focusing on them. We see how confusing it is for everyone and how easy it is to get angry at Lucia, while simultaneously seeing how Lucia can’t do anything about it. I have no background in the study of mental illness, but to a complete lay-person, this feels authentic.
It’s a tremendous first novel, and I look forward to seeing whether Lee can avoid the sophomore slump with her next one. If she gets better from here, it’s going to be something to see.