In Shanghai Girls, Lisa See tells the story of two sisters who had a privileged life in 1930s Shanghai but were essentially sold by their father as brides to pay off debts. In Los Angeles, they live a much different life than they had expected. In Dreams of Joy, See continues the story of Pearl and May, now focusing on Pearl’s grown daughter, Joy, who finds out her true parentage at the end of the first book and flees to Communist China to seek out her biological father.
Joy is young and impetuous and thinks idealistically that Mao’s China is a wonderful place where she can contribute to the new society. She finds her artist father, Z.G., in Shanghai and travels with him to the countryside, where she works alongside him and the peasants and falls in love. As readers find out what Joy is experiencing, they also learn about Pearl’s journey: she follows her daughter to China and tries to track her down and convince her to return to America. But the women find themselves in situations they had never imagined, and See allows readers to get a feel for the privations endured by so many innocents under Mao’s regime.
As is typical of See’s writing, there are no easy answers for her characters, and readers learn what it was like for Chinese in a certain place and time. Her writing is beautiful and even educational but often heartbreaking.
Rated: Mild, for a few uses of mild or moderate language, and a few brief but moderately detailed sexual references.