Jenn's Reviews > Circle of Cranes

Circle of Cranes by Annette LeBox
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Apr 11, 12

Read in April, 2012

Circle of Cranes is a beautifully written mix of fable and historical fiction. The author’s expressive style draws you in as you begin to learn more about Suyin and her life story, interwoven with a retelling of the classic story of the Crane Wife. .

The author has created a wonderful blend of ancient legend with modern day illegal immigration, connecting the horrors of life in the sweatshops with the beauty of the natural world inhabited by the cranes. There is a gentle introduction to and great expression of the Chinese migrant experience and the difficulties they encountered (cheating, violence, poverty, despair, depression) and the struggles of youth in this situation.

Life isn’t easy for Suyin. She’s technically alone in the world, as her father has died and her mother went away one day, never to return. She is ‘mothered’ by a series of aunties in the village who care for her in a rotating schedule, yet none of them have offered to adopt her as their own. Additionally, due to cruel final request by her father, Suyin cannot embroider like the other girls in the village, and therefore lacks the status and prestige that a female from her area should have.

Despite this, those who care for her consider Suyin ‘lucky’. Drawn to talk to the cranes that life in the nearby marsh, Suyin is happy in her life with the aunties and her best friend, Shin Shin. All this changes though, as Suyin is sold to a ‘snakehead’ migrant trader who ships her off to Gold Mountain (America) for a price. It is when she arrives in America that the story really begins to take off.

Perhaps most impressive piece of this story is the presence of strong female role models, and the beautiful use of language, especially ancient proverbs, as they allude to Suyin’s life experiences. Language itself plays a rich part in the story. There are stories and proverbs hidden in embroidery, an oral retelling of Suyin’s history (both human and crane), and a description of the secret language of women (both written – Nu Shu – and physical in embroidery). These different methods of communication keep Suyin connected to her heritage and her true destiny, and provide her with courage in times of need.

While Suyin works hard to create a new life for herself, it is when she connects to her past that she begins to grow towards adulthood and to truly take her place in the new world of “Gold Mountain”. There is a strong lesson here about staying true to whom you are. It works is because it doesn’t whack you over the head about it, allowing the reader to come to the understanding as gradually as Suyin.

Overall, this is a wonderfully rich book that encourages a rich discussion about language in all forms with the reader. It’s a fantastic read for both middle school and young adult readers; just be warned that some of the descriptions of life under snakehead control may be unpleasant for the more sensitive reader. Additionally, this is a very female-centered story, so engaging the male reader may be more difficult with this book.

“She knew more than most that not all acts of courage are rewarded. But finding her voice was the greatest risk for she had to open her heart to all the women in the world, her family, the one in which she truly belonged. At last she understood that her life mattered, that every life mattered, not just to herself, but to the world, and that losing her life would not just be a loss to herself, but to everyone.”
~ Quote from the ARC of Circle of Cranes

An ARC copy of Circle of Cranes was provided by Razorbill in exchange for an honest review.
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