8Books Review: “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, the latest novel from author Lisa See, is a story of mothers and daughters. Li-Yan is a member of an ethnic minority in the tea mountains of Yunnan, China, growing up in a time of immense change for the region. From a small child learning to harvest tea, we follow her journey into adulthood, her struggle with her culture’s traditions and what they mean when she gives birth to her own daughter, her marriage, its end, a circle back to tradition, and all the way through to a riveting conclusion.

Throughout, See takes us on an intimate journey exploring the complexities of Li-Yan’s relationship with her own mother, the village midwife and keeper of a small hidden grove of tea trees passed down from mother to daughter, mother to daughter. Then of Li-Yan’s forced abandonment of her own daughter and how it frames her adult life. And into the life of that daughter, Haley, adopted by American parents and growing up in California, who struggles with her identity. In addition to the threads that connect these women, the novel also offers a portrait and homage to the tea known as Pu’er.

In similar style to her other best-selling books like Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls, Lisa See’s latest is an enrapturing tale, as each generation of women in this family “comes of age” in a unique way, be they young women or village elders, generating complex and compelling character arcs. As circumstances change and China’s modernization reaches into the tea mountains, grandmother, mother, and daughter evolve, always finding solace in tea and the bonds of family.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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