PRAIRIE LOTUS, by Linda Sue Park , Clarion Books, March 3, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10-12)
Linda Sue Park’s Prairie Lotus is a unique story that will call to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
It’s the 1880s, and Hanna and her father have just arrived in LaForge, a railroad town in Dakota Territory. They hope to set up their own shop selling dress goods. They had a shop before, when Mama was alive. Hanna dreams of becoming a dressmaker like her mother, but it won’t be easy here, in a small town full of white settlers.
Hanna is half Asian. Papa’s white, but Mama was Chinese. Mama and Papa loved each other fiercely, but even in California a mixed marriage was looked down upon. Now, Hanna’s in America’s heartland where racial animosity toward Asians and Native Americans is almost 100 percent.
Prairie Lotus follows Hanna as she adjusts to her new surroundings and pushes the townsfolk adjust their prejudices.
My ancestors were some of the pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley in the late 1840s. I grew up in a culture that very much celebrates those who came before, and as such, I have a fair knowledge of the area’s history. But as I’ve grown and learned more, I’ve realized how very specific that history is to one group, location and certain events. Prairie Lotus has confirmed that realization even more.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve very rarely thought of the early Asian-American experience beyond the building of the transcontinental railroad. But obviously people settled down after its completion. When author Linda Sue Park mentioned Chinatown in Salt Lake City, it was sort of a lightbulb moment for me.
Told from Hanna’s perspective, Prairie Lotus immediately sucks you in. There are many parallels between it and Wilder’s work, but instead of the white perspective, you get that of a girl who sees much of herself mirrored in the eyes of the Native Americans she encounters.
Hanna is a character you immediately want to root for — strong, intelligent and determined. Though 14, Hanna is wise beyond her years. Her experience is emotional and empowering.
Park is an excellent storyteller. Her descriptions of LaForge, schooling and dressmaking in particular are vivid and engrossing. Reading her book is almost like walking into real-life scenes. Her writing is clear and honest. Prairie Lotus is a must-read.
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