[Feature photo: alantankenghoe]

Title: The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy

The Skinny: This book is set in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the late 1930s, and focuses on the lives of three younger children belonging to an immigrant Chinese family struggling to make their way in Canada. Like Goodreads says: “Sister Jook-Liang dreams of becoming Shirley Temple and escaping the rigid, old ways of China. Adopted Second Brother Jung-Sum, struggling with his sexuality and the trauma of his childhood in China, finds his way through boxing. Third Brother Sekky, who never feels comfortable with the multitude of Chinese dialects swirling around him, becomes obsessed with war games, and learns a devastating lesson about what war really means when his 17-year-old babysitter dates a Japanese man.”’

Why you need to read it: If you need some practice developing the characters in your writing, take a lesson from Wayson Choy. These people are so beautifully imagined, it’s almost heartbreaking to know they’re not real.

At first I wasn’t sure how much I really enjoyed the story. The tangle of people was disorienting, and sometimes confusing. I loathed Poh-Poh, the grandmother, for her old-fashioned beliefs about boys being the more favoured sex in a Chinese household. But I learned to love her too, when I came to Sekky’s story and his attachment for her as they foraged through the trash for treasures to make chimes with.

Even the hideous Monkey Man turned into a beautiful character at the end. Choy knows what he’s doing.

What I learned from it: Like I said, I started out not particularly enjoying this read. But by the time I posted “The Jade Peony” to Goodreads, I had given it a five-star rating. You can’t always fault a character because of their upbringing, I suppose. The same goes for observing detail sin travel literature, right?