Book Reviews: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman and Wishful Thinking by Alexandra Bullen

The Fire Horse GirlThe Fire Horse Girl
Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-40310-8
Hardcover

In China, your astrological sign is a combination of one of the twelve animal signs and an element.  A Fire Horse will only appear once in every sixty years.  This is a good thing.  The Fire amplifies the Horse’s most distasteful traits: stubbornness, selfishness and volatile temper.  A Fire Horse girl, particularly one born in the early twentieth century, has little hope of conforming to the expectations held for a Chinese lady.

Jade Moon is a Fire Horse girl.  At a blush, she appears spirited, spunky.  In today’s world, a female with those traits could be adorable, desirable even.  Such is not the case in China in the 1920s.  Jade Moon is 17 years old and it is very difficult for her family to arrange a marriage.  No one is willing to tolerate her sharp tongue, and, most certainly, no one wants to subject themselves to the Bad Luck she brings.

When a stranger, Sterling Promise, appears to speak to her father, of course she makes no effort to curb her brashness.  Soon, her father announces that he and Sterling Promise will be venturing to America, and that she would accompany them.  Jade Moon knew of the freedom that Americans enjoyed, and the endless opportunities they had.  It would have to be better than home.

Jade Moon was wrong.  Before even boarding the ship, she became aware of her father and Sterling Promise sharing secrets.  She quickly learned not to trust Sterling Promise.  The few ladies on the ship told her things that she refused to believe.  Her time spent on Angel Island was horrific; her departure brave and bold, and quite crazy.  Jade Moon’s determination to make a new life for herself in San Francisco’s Chinatown is courageous and admirable.  Her challenges seem insurmountable, but her quick mind and newly acquired skills help her survive.  Sterling Promise’s random appearances make survival even more challenging.  As Jade Moon plows her way into a new life, she learns that, to achieve true happiness, she will have to begin to trust; she will have to put her heart on the line.

The Fire Horse Girl is a fabulously written story.  While Jade Moon and Sterling Promise are fictitious characters, many of the details are true.  The deplorable conditions, alongside beautiful, heart-wrenching poetry detailed on Angel Island, is real.  “Paper families” were created.  The Chinese “gangs” existed.  Even the stories that Jade Moon loved to hear and to tell are adaptations from various Chinese Folktales.  I think that Ms. Honeyman is outstanding in crafting such a fantastic tale around historical facts that are not well-known, but probably should be.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wishful ThinkingWishful Thinking
Alexandra Bullen
Point, January 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-13907-6
Hardcover

We are all familiar with stories involving Three Wishes.  We even know most of The Rules: no wishing for more wishes, can’t make someone fall in love with you, no bringing someone back from the dead….it is a concept that we can grasp.  But, what if you didn’t even know that you had been granted three wishes?  At least, not until your quietly murmured, oft repeated, “first” wish comes true.

Wishful Thinking is told from the viewpoint of Hazel, beginning on her eighteenth birthday.  We quickly learn that Hazel’s life, until this point, has consisted of moving around.  From foster home to foster home, periodically reconnecting with her “sort-of” step-dad, Hazel has yet to sink her roots. She has no place to call home.

Two magic words, shared on the morning of her birthday, manage to give her hope.  She has a chance to pursue answers to the questions that plague her.  Finally, she may be able to figure out who she is.

An encounter with a surly seamstress, immediately followed by the knowledge of the loss of someone she never had, leave Hazel broken and dejected.  Little does she know, as she murmurs the wish, once again voicing the only thing she has ever truly wanted, Fate smiles on her.

A trip back in time is probably the last thing Hazel expected, but indubitably the one thing she needed most.  Ms. Bullen writes of Hazel’s self-discovery and difficult choices in a way that brings the reader right into the fold.  This sweet, tender and fulfilling book is a quick and compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2012.