A happy ending is relative to what precedes it—in this case, it stands in contrast to a horrific, true-to-life story about two girls growing up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. In the late '60s and early '70s, Chairman Mao ruled omnipotently, and his followers took up arms in his name. Being a Maoist involved self-sacrifice, and that war between personal wants and the movement's needs indirectly pits Min's protagonists against one another. Sweet, naïve Maple is saved from her usual beating by class bully Hot Pepper when new kid Wild Ginger stands up for both of them. This is no ordinary blacktop brawl: Hot Pepper and her gang members wield umbrellas like spears, stabbing their victims until they give up or collapse. Since Hot Pepper constantly invokes Maoist principles as rationale for her actions, the teachers dare not interfere for fear of being branded anti-Maoist and taken prisoner by the Red Guard or worse. Opposites in most ways, Maple and Wild Ginger become best friends over their shared ostracism. Their friendship is tested when a boy called Evergreen falls for Wild Ginger, whose extreme devotion to Mao conflicts with her natural impulses. Maple herself can't decide who she loves best—Wild Ginger or Evergreen—and her dilemma leads her to put herself in mortal danger. Min (Becoming Madame Mao; Red Azalea) has created a memorable, unsettling love story using the horrors of Maoism—which she experienced firsthand—as a backdrop. 8-city author tour. (Apr. 8)
Forecast: Wild Ginger is a more grueling read than the bestselling Becoming Madame Mao, and doesn't pack quite the same historical punch (it's hard to beat Madame Mao as a protagonist), but those who enjoyed Min's first novel will be satisfied by this one, which should mean strong sales.