Qian Julie Wang is but a child when she boards a plane to Mei Guo, Beautiful Country, as the US was known. The move was meant to be an escape from Communist oppression to a land of opportunity. When they land in New York, however, it becomes quickly apparent that opportunity is not afforded to everyone. Qian and her parents live in a single room of a dingy apartment with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Their meager furnishings come from “shopping days” where they trawl the streets for items left unwanted. They work in sweatshops and rely on a skeezy admirer for their weekly trip to McDonald’s. They live in poverty, yes, but mostly they live in fear. It is a fear known only to those who are undocumented and it affects everything the family does from schooling to employment to medical care. Beautiful Country only covers Qian’s experiences from [roughly] the ages of seven to twelve, but if you ever wondered what were the formative years, it’s those.
I love that this book is told entirely through the eyes of the child Qian was when she was living it. The final chapter, however, is told in her current voice as an adult who is finally able to breathe, and it was the most beautiful. At first I was upset we don’t get more of a “where are they now” moment at the end, but the now is less important. It’s the “then” that made such a strong impression on Qian.
4 out of 5 stars.
Pair with: Bug juice