The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (Adapted for Young Readers)
Heather B. Moore and Allison Hong Merrill
Published April 11, 2023
About The Paper Daughters of Chinatown
Based on the true story of two friends who unite to help rescue immigrant women and girls in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1890s.
When Tai Choi leaves her home in the Zhejiang province of China, she believes it’s to visit her grandmother. But despite her mother’s opposition, her father has sold her to pay his gambling debts. Alone and afraid, Tai Choi is put on a ship headed for “Gold Mountain” (San Francisco). When she arrives, she’s forced to go by the name on her forged papers: Tien Fu Wu.
Her new life as a servant is hard. She is told to stay hidden, stay silent, and perform an endless list of chores, or she will be punished or sold again. If she is to survive, Tien Fu must persevere, and learn who to trust. Her life changes when she’s rescued by the women at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls.
When Dolly Cameron arrives in San Francisco to teach sewing at the mission home, she meets Tien Fu, who is willful, defiant, and unwilling to trust anyone. Dolly quickly learns that all the girls at the home were freed from servitude and maltreatment, and enthusiastically accepts a role in rescuing more.
Despite challenges, Dolly and Tien Fu forge a powerful friendship as they mentor and help those in the mission home and work to win the freedom of enslaved immigrant women and girls.
First let me say that this was a really easy book to read. It took less than 24 hours to finish it, and I’d guess it took me something like two and a half hours to read.
I really liked that so much of the story is told from Tien Fu Wu’s perspective, even though her story is heartbreaking. I liked getting to follow her through her recovery to the point where she decided to help rescue other girls and where she was able to use her own experience to understand how to comfort other girls.
All I can say about Dolly Cameron is that she must have been truly a force to be reckoned with. I loved the way her friendship with Tien Fu Wu developed and the growth they both experienced along the way.
I haven’t read the adult version of this book, so I don’t know what content was removed. One of the things I wish this book had given a little more background information on was why the president and his wife visited the mission home. I wanted to understand how that happened. How did they know about the mission, and was there something that prompted them to visit?
Other than that, I thought the book did a great job describing the lives of girls like Tien Fu Wu and the obstacles that Dolly Cameron and the women at the mission faced in order to help them.
I think readers who enjoy books about history will definitely want to check this one out. The writing style seems more like narrative nonfiction, but it’s classified as a novel. Something about it reminded me of a book called LI JUN AND THE IRON ROAD by Anne Tait.
Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.
Tien Fu Wu and some other characters are Chinese. Dolly is white.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Vague references to brothels. One scene discusses a girl forced to work as a prostitute. (The book doesn’t describe what this means.)
Dolly and other characters are Christian. Some of the Chinese women they rescue convert to Christianity, though they are not required to do so. Dolly and the other leaders also include traditional Chinese culture and language in the lessons at the school.
Brief descriptions of abuse. For example, Tien Fu Wu’s owner burned her face with a hot poker and pinched her arms, leaving bruises.
As they walk the streets, sometimes characters smell opium being smoked in the buildings nearby.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE PAPER DAUGHTERS OF CHINATOWN in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.