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The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island


The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island

In 1922, 10-year-old Gim Lew Yep lives in a small village in southern China. His family owns a rice farm, but it doesn’t produce nearly enough money to support them. So Gim Lew’s father and older brothers work in other parts of the world and send money home. Gim Lew barely knows his Chinese-American father; he has only met him once, which was the last time his father came home for a visit from San Francisco, two years ago. But then the family receives a letter announcing that his father is coming home again. Usually, he waits approximately seven years in between visits, so they suspect he has a big announcement to make. Gim Lew works extra hard on correcting his stuttering and using his right hand instead of his more natural left to please this man he doesn’t know.

When Gim Lew’s father finally arrives back home in China, the family hosts a huge celebration with a feast and gifts. But the celebratory feelings quickly die off when they learn the motivation behind his early return: He wants Gim Lew to come back to America with him to work. Everyone knew it would happen eventually, but they didn’t think it would come to fruition until Gim Lew had grown older. But new immigration rules forming would make entrance to America even more difficult, so he wanted to get him in while he still could. Gim Lew bids farewell to his mother, sister and homeland, with doubts of ever seeing them again. 

Gim Lew and his father board a ship bound for America. While packed tightly in the bowels of the ship, Gim Lew gets to know his father while they study for the exam that awaits them. Immigration officials intensely interrogate each returning Chinese American to confirm that he is indeed the same fellow who left. As a son, Gim Lew will undergo the same test. If he fails, then he will be returned to China, sodden in shame. Gim Lew studies hard and focuses on improving his stuttering. He refuses to be a disgrace to his family. Slowly, he begins to accept having to leave China and starts looking forward to the adventure that awaits him. 

Laurence Yep has written over 60 books for young people, winning many awards along the way. His newest story is historical fiction based on his own ancestors ---  Gim Lew is the author’s father. Much of his research came from the immigration records used to test the returning Chinese Americans. Yep has done a brilliant job weaving fact and fiction into this poignant story. He brings to life the harsh treatment these people had to undergo just to be a part of both their Chinese and American worlds. 

As Yep writes in his Author’s Note, “…historical fiction is more than a record of dates and statistics: it should be a dialogue with the dead.” He also has a vivid grasp of description, bringing his pages to life (“I loved to watch the crops grow and ripen until the land was covered by a living green fur. Then, when the water was drained away, the fur turned a beautiful gold. And when the wind blew, it was like a giant hand stroking a lion.”). 

THE DRAGON’S CHILD is more than just an entertaining story. It is a reminder of the past and a teacher for the future.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on March 25, 2008

The Dragon's Child: A Story of Angel Island
written by Laurence Yep, with Dr. Kathleen S. Yep

  • Publication Date: September 13, 2011
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0062018159
  • ISBN-13: 9780062018151