This review is part of a MotherTalk blog tour, and I received this book from the publisher to review.
February Flowers, by Fan Wu is a beautiful novel of women, China, and has a new twist on the classic coming of age novel. Most coming of age novels I read are set in the US, Great Britain, or Australia. The book gives you a peek into the cultural differences between the US and China, and it’s fascinating.
The story starts in Guangzhou province, which I had heard of because I have had a couple friends who adopted their daughters from that province. Fan Wu mentions this as her main character talks about the province – the five star hotels are used by Americans coming to adopt, but many of the people live in ramshackle homes. The dorm rooms for the college are also in rough shape – rats, no doors on the toilets, and overpopulated. Chen Ming has moved back to the city after her divorce, and finds herself thinking of her college friend as she sees places and things from her college days. When she goes to the Alumni office to get her transcript (needed to apply for a job in the US), she meets someone else who knew her friend Miao Yan, saying she heard Yan had moved to the US. This part of the story sets the frame for the inner story where Ming remembers her relationship as a 17 year old with 24 year old Yan.
Yan is older, womanly, and worldly. However, when we meet her she has just broken up with her boyfriend, and she is alone. Ming – young, girlish, and naive – is quickly befriended by Yan. As their friendship progresses, Ming is whirled into Yan’s world, and tries to find her own footing as she learns about clothing, men, and the change into womanhood.
Fan Wu has a wonderful way with words, and she has created a world within
February Flowers where innocence is balanced with worldly, and the character of modern day China is in the balance. Ming (an innocent from a family moved to a farm in the Cultural Revolution) is courted as a friend by Yan, who has separated herself from her family and looks only to the New China and finding a job in a “modern” city and province. But not only is it a pull between Old China and New China, there is also the pull between innocence and worldly. Ming wishes she could be womanly like Yan, but Yan also wishes she could go back to a time when she had Ming’s girlish innocence.
While there is clearly an undercurrent of deeper meaning within
February Flowers, the story and characters above that current are well fleshed out, and very strong. This is yet another book that I wish had a few more chapters, as the ending didn’t feel like The End. As I watched the pull between Old and New, the pull between innocence and worldly, I saw that neither extreme can exist for long – the middle ground is where most people end up most comfortable, and it is toward the middle ground that Ming and Yan are both pulled.
If you love coming of age stories, stories about China, or stories of friendship, check out
February Flowers. If you aren’t partial to any of those, you might want to check it out anyhow – Fan Wu has written a wonderful story of the love within friendship.