A River of Stars

Vanessa Hua. Ballantine, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-1787-88
In her skillful debut novel, Hua (Deceit and Other Possibilities: Stories), a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, introduces a strong heroine: fiercely independent Scarlett Chen. Scarlett, a factory clerk, fought her way to prosperity from the poverty of her native Chinese village and the clutches of her controlling mother. But when an affair with her married boss results in a pregnancy—and the ultrasound reveals the son he’s always longed for—Boss Yeung sends Scarlett to Los Angeles to be cared for in a secret maternity home. Run by another clever woman, Mama Fang, the home caters to wealthy Chinese couples hoping to secure U.S. citizenship for their soon-to-be born children. It’s there that Boss Yeung’s true intentions (and his own considerable self-interest) are revealed. When Scarlett learns that the ultrasound was incorrect and she’s in fact carrying a girl, she knows she must leave the home to save herself. Along with another young pregnant woman, she breaks free to scratch out an existence on the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown—a setup that is heartbreaking and, at turns, hilarious, as the two must remain undetected while they make their way across California. Hua wonderfully evokes the exigencies of lives at the margins of American culture by revealing Scarlett’s enduring ingenuity as she navigates near-destitute single motherhood. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2018
Release date: 08/14/2018
Genre: Fiction

Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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