Friday, June 20, 2014

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

So this is another older book and not a new one.  I picked it up because it had was in my classroom when I moved in there, a whole class set of books and I never once read it in the past five years.  I figured it's high time I sat down and read it.  I'm glad I did.

Laurence Yep
Scholastic Inc., 1975

Laurence Yep gives us Moon Shadow, a wonderfully written character who guides us through his journey to America at the turn of the twentieth century and the seven years after as he struggles to understand the ways of American.  Dragonwings introduces to Moon Shadow when he still lives in China with his mother and grandmother while they wait for their father who has traveled to the “demon land” in order to earn money and send it back to them.  One day Moon Shadow learns he will travel with a family friend and meet his father in this strange land.  In America he learns about the evils that many of the Tang people have fallen under in this strange new place.  He also learns about the good that the “demons” can bring with them as he and his father meet new people and work towards their dream of building a flying machine.  Eventually they must strike out alone as their family believes their dream of building Dragonwings is foolish. 

Although a historical fiction novel that paints a picture of how life was for Chinese immigrants at this time, this story is more about dreams and not giving up on them than just about the events that happen to the characters.  It shows us how Moon Shadow and his father grow together as they depend upon one another, but it also shows the pair learning to trust others—even those they have been taught not to trust. 

The Americans are painted as evil creatures who make silly decisions and have no idea of the truth towards the beginning of the novel.  This is how Moon Shadow has learned to understand them based on the way his people describe them, but also based on the way he and the other Tang people are treated by Americans.  We see the danger for the Tang people in simply walking the streets in demon villages, and the manner in which they’re spoken to by Americans.  During a disaster, they are made to leave safe ground and travel each day while officials decide what to do with them, while the Americans stay put and given rations.  Moon Shadow also meets “demons” who are kind and helpful and truly interested in what he and his father have to say.  It is through his father’s open-mindedness and encouragement that Moon Shadow begins to understand that good and evil are spread throughout the world and not concentrated within one group of people.
I enjoyed this novel, but I it was a rather slow read.  I found myself skimming some parts just to keep things going.  Even though it spans seven years, I found myself just waiting to see what was going to happen and being frustrated with description or narrative that didn’t seem to move it forward enough for me.  The characters were well formed for the most part, though, and I even felt that one of the evil characters was full enough for us to understand the hatred within him.  It was enough to feel sorry for this character, just as Moon Shadow comes to feel. 

Overall this is a great historical fiction that I did enjoy, but I find it difficult to give it more than three stars because it was difficult to get through.  I recommend this for readers who enjoy good historical fiction and stories about hope, because if there is one thing that Moon Shadow has throughout this story, it’s hope.

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