About the novel:
Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife.
On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe.
Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?
The novel was shorter than I expected. I read it in about two days, which is a rarity for me with my crazy life. But the story, while well-researched and interesting, is also rather simplistic. There are a lot of places the author could have added more information. Mei Ling only receives two letters from home and she never contacts the local shelter for women (in spite of a rather frightening letter she came across about it early in the novel).
The biggest issue with the novel though is that Mei Ling has no actual conflict in her life. Every “problem” she is faced with, she either solves or it is solved for her within a few pages. The person with the problem is Siew. The novel would have been much more compelling if Siew had been the main character. The largest conflict for Mei Ling comes at the last 10% of the novel, and, again, it is solved quickly and easily – and not under Mei Ling’s own steam. The novel had a lot of potential, but simply wasn’t developed enough for me.