Rummanah Aasi
   Kay Honeyman's debut novel, The Fire Horse Girl, is a different kind of immigrant story. Instead of focusing on how immigrants try to assimilate to American culture, we are offered a different take of the immigrant journey where dreams and expectations are easily traded and sold in seedy places. This review is based on the advanced reader's copy I've received from the publisher via Netgalley. Thank you!

Description (from the Publisher): Jade Moon is a Fire Horse -- the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls, said to make them stubborn, willful, and far too imaginative. But while her family despairs of marrying her off, she has a passionate heart and powerful dreams, and wants only to find a way to make them come true.
  Then a young man named Sterling Promise comes to their village to offer Jade Moon and her father a chance to go to America. While Sterling Promise's smooth manners couldn't be more different from her own impulsive nature, Jade Moon falls in love with him on the long voyage. But America in 1923 doesn't want to admit many Chinese, and when they are detained at Angel Island, the "Ellis Island of the West," she discovers a betrayal that destroys all her dreams. To get into America, much less survive there, Jade Moon will have to use all her stubbornness and will to break a new path . . . one as brave and dangerous as only a Fire Horse girl can imagine.

Review: Jade Moon was born in the year of the Fire Horse, a cursed year for girls. Her horoscopes dictates that she will be too bold, too brash, too stubborn, and she will bring nothing but sorrow and bad luck to her family. Jade Moon unsuccessfully tries to show her family and friends that she is not cursed, but things always go wrong. When a stranger named Sterling Promise shows up at her home in China carrying papers to America with her dead uncle's picture, a plan is hatched for Jade Moon, her father, and Sterling Promise to journey to a new country. Jade Moon is fully convinced that when she goes to America, her cursed label will be forgotten and that she, for the first time, will decide on how to live her life.
  The voyage to America is nothing like what Jade Moon imagined. It is perilous as she is being forced to spend desperate months on Angel Island waiting to be approved to enter California. She is completely taken aback on how poorly Chinese immigrants are treated. As she gathers clues, Jade Moon discovers that her father and Sterling Promise are using her for their own ends, she sets out on her own.
  I got involved with the story of Jade Moon right away. I really liked her character, but after a while I thought she became too much of a caricature. There was really no balance in her personality. She was just too stubborn, impulsive, and hot tempered, but I understood her desire to branch out on her own and make her own destiny. Sterling Promise, however, didn't really make that much of an impression on me. I never really trusted him as he keenly manipulated others to get his own way. There is a lot of potential for his character to become more. There is also hint of a romance along the lines of a love/hate one between him and Jade Moon, but it didn't really develop as much as I would have liked.
  The pace of the book is somewhat uneven. The first half of the book discusses Jade Moon's life in China and the build-up of the possible journey to America. The action stalls as we are given details on the life on Angel Island, but soon picks up when Jade Moon's path diverges from those of her father and Sterling Promises. The parts where she is forced to dress up like a boy and where no one notices for quite some time as well as get involved with the gangsters in San Francisco's Chinatown requires readers to suspend their disbelief. I wish we got to see more of Jade Moon become independent, but I did like how she grew and realized that who really wants to become is inside herself and not from what society expects from her.
  There are a lot of historical details including lots of facts of prejudice and injustice inflicted upon the immigrants on Angel Island that I was unfamiliar with before reading this story. The Fire Horse Girl is a different and refreshing take on the usual immigrant story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and mention of brothels, prostitution, and gambling. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph, Thief Girl by Ingrid Lee, Learning to Fly by Paul Yee
7 Responses
  1. Annette Says:

    I missed this on NetGalley, and I really wanted it. By the time I got approved, it was archived. I'm drawn to stories about immigrants, for some reason, especially those about Asians. Great review. Thanks!


  2. Too bad this wasn't perfect. I wonder if some authors feel so strongly that female characters should be strong, stubborn, and independent that they forget that even the strongest person has vulnerabilities.


  3. Hmm, all the reviews I've read so far have been pretty enthusiastic so I'm happy to read a more tempered one. Pacing issues are a big deal sometimes, but how much it'll bother me depends on so many different things. It worries me that the characters seemed underdeveloped and exaggerated at times.
    Great review!


  4. Candace Says:

    I have heard the pace is a little uneven for this one, but it definitely sounds good. If I hadn't read other reviews I wouldn't have realized this was a historical fiction. I like the cover, but it just doesn't really portray that. I'm glad you mostly enjoyed this anyway!


  5. Huh, I saw this one on NetGalley and thought about requesting it before deciding not to. I think that was a good choice since I'm pretty sure I'd get annoyed by the MC's personality after a while. I like characters being a bit more moderate ... not too stubborn and impulsive.


  6. Still not hitting the high notes as far as good reads. But let me say, that with a name like Sterling Promise, that's rather a tell, isn't it? He just already sounds like he's gonna be a let down! No mom? Or did they leave her behind? I've read characters like Jade Moon who are just too much. There has to be some other to them they can't be all stubborn and nothing else. Still you didn't give it one star. That's promising and you used the word refreshing. I know nothing about Angel Island either. It would be good to read just for the historical knowledge if it's accurate. Great review!

    Heather


  7. Lauren Says:

    It's a shame this had pacing issues, and that Jade Moon became a caricature. That's really disappointing to hear, because I have such high hopes for this one. I bought it after reading several amazing reviews, but just haven't had time for it yet. Still I'll probably give it a try. Glad to hear it tackles the immigrant experience in a refreshing way. Thanks for your thoughtful review!


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