A River of Stars

When Scarlett Chen became pregnant, the baby’s father, a wealthy (and married) factory owner and Scarlett’s employer, sent her from China to Los Angeles so that his son would be born on American soil. After so many daughters, this baby would be a dream come true for Boss Yeung. Scarlett, however, is not so happy with the strict rules of the maternity home, and when she learns she’s actually having a daughter, she worries about how Boss Yeung will react. So, when she gets a chance, she makes her escape.

Unbeknownst to Scarlett, Daisy, a teenager from the maternity home, has stowed away in the vehicle Scarlett uses to escape. Daisy is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Taiwan, and she longs to see her boyfriend, a college student with enough family money to be able to help them.

And so Scarlett and Daisy team up, looking for Daisy’s boyfriend, while eluding Boss Yeung. They end up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where they are able to hide and make a home, bargaining for the supplies they need and making friends who are able to help them along. All the while, Boss Yeung, who is dying of a terminal illness, looks for the son he believes will provide the blood to cure him and the legacy he’s always wanted.

Scarlett is a charming character, full of practical determination and intelligence. It’s fun to watch her quickly assess situations and figure out how to get what she needs. And it’s also easy to see how stressful it is to have to do that, to live on the edge of poverty and legality, at every moment having not just to assess the possibilities for gain from a situation but also the potential danger.

Scarlett’s survival instincts put a strain on her relationships. She and Daisy are using each other, but they are also friends who grow closer and closer as they have their babies and raise them together. As they befriend people around them, many of those friendships appear to be built on the deals they can make to their own benefit, but there’s genuine affection and respect at the core of them as well. There’s a sense that the community is in it together, even if they are attempting to outwit each other.

The story is at times more complicated than I think it needed to be. The Boss Yeung plot goes beyond his search for Scarlett and into discoveries about his family and business partner. Every time he turned up with some new development, it felt like a distraction from the heart of the book. The developments in his storyline end up being important to the book’s resolution, but I don’t think they required quite as much time as they did.

I’m still making up my mind about the book’s ending. It was definitely rushed, almost breath-takingly so. And some of the decisions Scarlett and Daisy made leading up to the resolution seemed to be more potentially fraught than they turned out to be. It was a little too easy, in the end. But maybe when characters are so pleasing and likable, it’s not so bad to see complications wiped away in the blink of an eye. As a debut novel, I found this especially strong, and I’ll keep an eye out for what Vanessa Hua writes next.

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