Monday, January 9, 2012

A little romance, culture, social awareness & happy ending: Chasing China

Title: Chasing China: A Daughter's Quest for the Truth
Author: Kay Bratt
Publisher: Kindle Edition
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1466478578  (My first e-book!)
Pages: 346

Mia is clearly adopted. Growing up in a small-town, very white, her Chinese features prompted thoughtless people to ask, “What is she?” to which her mother would reply, “Human, of course!” As Mia enters adulthood, she feels the need to find out about her roots, not because her childhood was bad, or she doubts the love of her adopted family. Fortunately, her adopted family is highly supportive and she sets off, alone, to visit China for the summer and research the orphanage, and hopeful, her birth family.

Having procured a tour of the orphanage she was adopted from, Mia is treated with great honor as the director shows her the facility. However, Mia is appalled at the treatment of the children, which, although humane, lacks warmth and encouragement. Because she was adopted to an American family, it is assumed Mia is now rich with maids and butlers, extravagant clothing, and extensive education. Although not rich by American standards, Mia ponders the twist of fate that allowed her to have a loving, supportive childhood in the face of the institutional treatment of the children in the orphanage. She is particularly drawn to a quiet and obviously ill little girl. The visit seems to go well, until Mia is allowed to question her foster mother. There is some mystery to Mia's birth or adoption that no one will speak of. The visit ends abruptly.

While waiting for another meeting, and more information, from the director, a series of happy coincidences carries Mia through the struggles of being a single, female, foreigner in an unknown land. First, she meets a Chinese-American man, Jax, who is interning with a five star hotel chain. He takes an instant liking to her because of her independent and confident ways. Through him, Mia is introduced to the expatriate women's group, who volunteer at the orphanage and try to raise money and support for the ill children. Mia is brought into the bureaucracy of trying to secure treatment for the sick little girl in the orphanage. At the same time, Mia strikes up a friendship with one of the young caretakers, TingTing, who leads her to her foster mother. When official-looking security people raid Mia's hotel room, she takes shelter with TingTing and her foster mother. Through this, she learns more about her adoption and sets out to locate the town she was born into.

It turns out that her family were poor farmers who lived in caves in the country-side. Although poor, they were happy and joyful with their children, but could not afford the tax and fine for having multiple children. So, Mia was taken from them. Her parents attempted to raise the money to get her back, but being uncommonly beautiful, she was quickly adopted by Americans, which is more profitable than the tax/fine. One of the dark secrets of China, according to the book, is that children are forcibly taken from parents and put into the adoption pool. In other words, they are stolen children. Mia, accompanied by Jax and TingTing, meets her birth father, and it turns out TingTing is her sister. In a fairy-tale ending, Jax returns to the States to work at his family's business, TingTing moves in with Mia's adopted family, and her birth father dies a happy man.

Having lived overseas for awhile, I found Mia's reaction to the orphanage and daily life in China to be ironically funny. She is both appalled and fascinated with what she sees and attempts to reconcile her American mentality to a new world view. This, I believe, is a typical struggle of expats. However, although there were moments of tension, her search for her roots was filled with to many easy coincidences, not the least of which was the ease of living in China as a single, female foreigner. Throughout the book I was wondering who the target audience was for the writing, as there was a strange obsession with lip-gloss and mascara, and a teeny-bopper description of the development of the romance between Mia and Jax. Although not necessarily marketed as a young adult book, the style is less sophisticated then the typical adult read. However, it was a fun read with a happy ending, and I think we all need a little Disney in our lives to counteract the cynicism that is prevalent.

The author, a white American woman, spent time working in Chinese orphanages and based some of the characters on the people she met. She continues to work with adoptees in dealing with the unique issues of adoption, and especially those from Asia. Her personal website has more details on her books and work.

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