cover image SPILLED WATER


Sally Grindley, . . Bloomsbury, $15.95 (223pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-937-4

Grindley's (No Trouble at All ) debut novel centers on narrator Lu Si-yan, whose humble yet happy life with her parents and younger brother in rural China is shattered by her father's sudden death. The novel begins as Si-yan's Uncle takes her on a mysterious trip, and the early chapters alternate with flashbacks to the days before and immediately following her father's death. In their grief, the family struggles to survive: their roof collapses, the vegetables Si-yan and her mother hope to sell at market are ruined when their rickshaw overturns and a drought causes their crops to wilt. Readers soon learn the destination of the mystery trip: Si-yan's uncle sells the 11-year-old into servitude, to help repay the family's debts. The child, likened to worthless "spilled water," becomes the property of a wealthy man in a smog-shrouded city who expects Si-yan to serve his family until she is old enough to marry his brain-damaged son. Much of the narrative labors to emphasize the low status of girls and women in society. The heroine's grueling days in her master's hapless household (brightened by the presence of a kind grandmother, who helps the girl escape) precedes an equally gloomy account of her life as an exploited factory worker, a job she hopes will enable her to return home with money for her mother. Though some poignant scenes give the narrative a lift, many readers will find this a rather plodding, tragic tale. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)