Tiger daughter by Rebecca Lim
Wen and Henry have a plan. They are going to study hard and together sit the entrance exam to an amazing selective school where they’ll be able to follow their dreams and escape the poverty and the fear of their homes. Both families are Chinese migrants, struggling in their new country: Wen’s father has repeatedly failed the exams to practise as a surgeon in Australia, and is reduced to waiting tables in a Chinese restaurant. His rage and bitterness keeps his wife and daughter living in fear, afraid of igniting his temper. Henry’s father labours in a fruit and vegetable market, as his wife sinks into depression in front of the tv. But both Wen and Henry are determined to soar like comets and burn their way out of the trap they are in.
Then something really terrible happens, and it looks like everything is too hard.
The overwhelming tension that runs through this story, the fear of anger and abuse that makes Wen keep her eyes down, the difficulty in treading a line between two cultures, is so powerfully described that I could not put this book down and had to read it all in one sitting. But Wen holds on to what she knows is right and the story becomes one of staying true to oneself, having courage, and persevering. The two children are able to support each other, and even share moments of humour. And there are also caring teachers and community members who step in at the right time.
In the author’s note Lim encourages young readers to stay strong, and step out of the boundaries that others put around them. They are not invisible, they can challenge limitations, and be what they want to be. It is an uplifting story that draws our empathy for the marginalised other, and hopefully build greater understanding and kindness. It is good to see books like this and the Layla books by Yassmin Abdel-Magied providing insight into a diverse Australia. Teacher's notes are available.
Themes: Friendship, Courage, Fear, Perseverance, Chinese migrants, Systemic bias.