The Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu 2009 S.A.S.S. series
IQ "One must not look for answers that fit the observation, but ask the questions that arise from the observation. Only then will the truth reveal itself." pg. 243
Cece was born in China, but at the age of two she was adopted by two Americans. Cece has always wanted to find her birth parents and re-connect with China, the land of her birth. Also she's bored with life in Texas and the S.A.S.S. program seems like a fun, interesting thing to do. She travels to Xi'ian, China as well as Beijing and Hong Kong where she studies anthropology. As Cece learns more and more about China and its history, she begins to wonder if maybe meeting her birth parents isn't the best of ideas and of course there's a guy involved.
I loved reading about the issue brought up in Great Call of China. I'm always wary with the S.A.S.S. series that since it's chick lit there will be no substance, but I was so wrong about that in this book. As Cece searches for her birth parents, she learns about China's one child policy and how it favors boys. I knew a little bit about this policy but I wasn't objective about it, like Cece I just saw it as evil. The author explores both sides of the issue, I understood why the government would put this policy into place and of course I understood how it hurts families and leaves many orphans. Basically the one child policy says that families can only have one child and since boys are often considered more valuable than girls, many girls are given up for adoption and than families can try again for another child that will hopefully be a boy. However, the issue is more complex than it sounds and you need to read this book to understand the gray areas.
The authors in the S.A.S.S. series always do a great job of describing the country and this author did an excellent job. I wanted to visit the Forbidden City, climb the Great Wall and ring the bell at the Bell Tower in Xi'ian (did anyone else start singing "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward? lol). The author doesn't just mention passing sights, Cece explores the main tourist attractions of China (the Great Wall, Forbidden City) as well as the less common places like the Bell Tower, orphanages and the Muslim Quarter). I thought it was really cool that there's a Muslim Quarter in Xi'an. I don't know many people who think Muslims and China so I enjoyed reading about the Muslim Quarter.
I know some bloggers have said that they want a BA Asian girl, one who is smart but also sarcastic and takes risks. Read this book! None of the characters in this novel fit the Asian stereotypes so often seen in books and movies. There's Jessica who is so far removed from the stereotypical smart and quiet Asian girl, that she has become one of my favorite antagonists. And of course, the love interest Will. I loved the friendship between Will and Cece. Cece felt uncomfortable around both Will and Jessica because they both grew up celebrating their Asian culture, whereas Cece knows almost nothing about China and its culture. Will's Chinese heritage did not define him, he just happened to be Chinese. It was nice to see that in his story, his cultural background wasn't a big deal. I could relate to Cece feeling out of place, as if she was missing something because she did not grow up dealing with the whole 'strict Asian parent' thing or celebrating the holidays. Cece was a wonderful main character, she wasn't a brat or anything. The main thing that kept her from searching for her birth parents for so long was that she didn't want to hurt her parents. Cece had her flaws, she was indecisive and a bit blind to the obvious but she was sweet, hardworking and she loves anthropology (I love the show Bones and that show combined with this book have heightened my interest in anthropology). The only character that annoyed me was Kallyn because she wouldn't shut up about her boyfriend and I was hoping the author would make the point that girls can become too dependent on their boyfriends, but she doesn't. I ended up not minding that because Kallyn only makes a few appearances (more Jessica time!) while still remaining a present character (i.e. she never completely faded into the background).
The Great Call of China provides a refreshing look at Asians that does not fit the preconceived notion of being quiet, smart and obedient. It's a wonderful example of a book that showcases the diversity in cultural groups, that we can't be labeled. It also explores current issues that affect China today in a nuanced manner. The adoption story is touching and realistic. The characters are all genuine, they could easily be your classmate or next door neighbor. They have issues and they grow. Obviously, you will finish this book and want to go to China :)
Disclosure: I bought this from Barnes & Noble and it was already autographed! I wish I could meet the author because I really enjoyed the book, but I'm so glad I have an autographed copy of a book I enjoyed.