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Chu Ju's House

Review

Chu Ju's House

In her previous novels, including ANGEL ON THE SQUARE and HOMELESS BIRD (winner of the 2000 National Book Award), Gloria Whelan brought to life specific times and places --- such as modern India and revolutionary Russia --- through the stories of individual young women. With CHU JU'S HOUSE, Whelan applies her same eye for detail to modern China, in the story of a young woman who must travel far away to find the self-respect she'll never gain at home.

When Chu Ju is fourteen years old, her mother becomes pregnant. In China, poor families are limited to two children, so the whole family prays that the baby will be a boy. When the baby is a girl, Chu Ju's disappointed parents and grandmother consider sending the baby to an orphanage to give them another chance to have a son. Instead, Chu Ju, after learning of this plan, runs away to save her baby sister from an unpleasant fate.

Young and inexperienced, Chu Ju travels from place to place and job to job, learning about her country and about herself as she goes. Finally, she finds what seems like a real home with the kindly old woman Han Na. Chu Ju flourishes under the older woman's care and begins to have hope for the future, and maybe even the promise of love.

As Chu Ju travels throughout rural China, readers will learn about many traditional Chinese occupations: fishing, silk making and rice farming. Because of its focus on rural life and traditional work, the novel sometimes seems to be set in the distant past. But occasional references to city life (including a harrowing journey to Shanghai) and recent events such as the Tiananmen Square tragedy remind readers that this novel is indeed set in modern times.

CHU JU'S HOUSE touches on political issues in modern China, and it would be an excellent jumping-off point for discussions about politics, culture and gender roles. It's also an entertaining adventure story. Although the book is short, it covers several years in Chu Ju's life. Readers will enjoy watching this headstrong, idealistic girl grow into a strong-willed, responsible young woman.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 13, 2004

Chu Ju's House
by Gloria Whelan

  • Publication Date: April 13, 2004
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060507241
  • ISBN-13: 9780060507244