Same Page 2019: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

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Throughout the month of March, JMRL is celebrating the 2019 Same Page community read. This year’s title is The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, who will be appearing at the Northside Library at 6pm on Wednesday, March 20th.

The book examines identity through the lenses of cross-cultural adoption and Chinese ethnicities set against the backdrops of suburban California and the tea mountains of Yunnan Province.

The library is hosting several book club meetings which will focus on The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Other book groups in the community are encouraged to read the title and can check out circulating book club kits, which include materials to help guide discussion.

JMRL invites the community to read and discuss a book written by an author appearing at the Virginia Festival of the Book each year in March. The library invites community members to attend a variety of free events at all of its eight branches in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties. For more information, please see jmrl.org/samepage.

Same Page is generously funded by the Friends of JMRL and supported by the Art and Jane Hess Fund of the Library Endowment.

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“Moby-Dick of the tea world”

25150798Books on Tap read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane  by Lisa See at Champion Brewery on March 7. Throughout the month of March, JMRL encourages everyone to read this title and then meet the author at our free event at Northside library on March 20th at 6pm as part of the Same Page.  

See frequently writes on Chinese-American themes, having spent much of her youth in L.A.’s Chinatown with paternal relatives. In this novel, she traces a young Akah women growing up in a rural tea growing region of China near the Thai border in the 1980s. Li-yan is raised according to traditional Akah customs, shadowing her mother the midwife. The local teacher singles her out for education in the nearest city, where her life is upended by her boyfriend. She gives birth to a daughter who is put in an orphanage and ultimately raised in California by a white couple. Li-yan packs a lot of living into her first 27 years while the daughter explores the clues (dark skin, a uniquely decorated tea cake) that hint at her biological parents. Li-yan and that daughter, Haley, work to find each other by the end of the novel.

The majority of our book club members liked the book. See packs in tons of information about the tea industry and the Akha people which we enjoyed as a window into lives we would not normally read about. Some readers thought that she could have done a better job weaving those details into the story instead of dropping in blocks of exposition. We were surprised to encounter the matrilineal and sex-positive Akah traditions. Coincidences abound but most of us thought they were within the bounds of reason. The ending wasn’t a surprise, and while a happy ending is satisfying, we speculated on the type of relationship Li-yan and Hayley would maintain back in California.

If this story inspires you to look into your own family history, check out JMRL’s online genealogy resources or set up an appointment to digitize your personal VHS tapes, slides, photos, negatives and cassette tapes.

More Information:
About the author
About the book
Other works
About the Akha
About the tea plantations

Books on Tap Information:

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Previous titles

Posted in Books on Tap

“No coincidence, no story.”

teagirlThe Brown Baggers met on August 16 to discuss Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

The story takes place in the mountains of China. Li-yan, a young girl of the Akha ethnic minority group, lives with her family picking tea leaves and following the customs of her culture. Li-yan is smart and is able to continue her schooling beyond what is typical for someone in her village. When a stranger visits the village in a jeep, the first automobile any of them had seen, Li-yan acts as a translator and begins to understand that there is a world far beyond her own and that she doesn’t have to stay in her village forever.

In Li-yan’s teenage years she falls in love with a young man who is not considered an appropriate match by her mother, but Li-yan bears his child, then takes the baby to an orphanage in the city, leaving the infant with a special tea cake. Li-yan eventually makes a life for herself outside of her small village, through owning a tea shop that sells pu-erh tea, but she never forgets the child she gave up.

Almost all of the Brown Baggers loved this book! They thought the story was interesting and loved learning more about the Akha people and about how tea is grown and processed. Some noted that although the novel had many characters, it was a plot-driven novel, rather than character-driven, which made the story move quickly.

Some readers mentioned that they thought there were too many details about tea. Although the book centered around the unique tea culture, there was a lot of information about the price of different tea leaves and this seemed to distract from the plot of the story. But others mentioned how much research the author must have completed around the topic.

Many readers felt that it was interesting to learn about the superstitions of the Akha culture and how they were different (and similar) to superstitions from other parts of the world. The Akha had the saying “no coincidence, no story,” but some Brown Baggers pointed out that there were many, many coincidences in the book. Also, most felt that the ending was too contrived, but they still enjoyed it. Others felt like the ambiguous ending was disappointing, but in an interview, the author said that she purposefully wrote the ending this way.

The Brown Baggers will meet again on September 20th at 12pm and will be discussing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

More Information:
Article about Pu-erh tea
About the Akha People

Reviews of the Book:
From Kirkus Reviews
From the Washington Post
From the Los Angeles Review of Books

Books and Authors Mentioned:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
China Dolls by Lisa See
Pearl S. Buck