Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Publisher: Random House
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Released: 2011
Rating: 4.5/5


Pearl and May began their journey in “Shanghai Girls” as beautiful, educated and wealthy sisters. When their family was on the verge of bankruptcy their father sent them to America to marry “Gold Mountain Men.” In ‘Dreams of Joy” Pearl and May’s life journey continues, full of obstacles and tough decisions. Joy has lived for 19 years thinking that her mother is Pearl, on the contrary- her aunt is her actual mother and her father is an artist in China. She doesn’t know how she never figured this out; a confused Joy grabs her passport and decides to find her father. Feeling betrayed and angry she wants to go back to China and prove her mother and aunt wrong. Idealist Joy is wholeheartedly advocating for communism, and now is her chance to leave the US. Pearl is not long behind her, hoping to bring her daughter home.


Lisa See has an amazing ability to bring her stories to life. I really enjoyed See’s portrayal of Communist China and the misconceptions the US Media depicted. A desperate, Pearl is reluctant to return to China, knowing that communism is not what her daughter perceives, she vows to find her and bring her home. Growing up in the US, Joy never understood the hardships her family endured, she brushed off their stories. While in university she joined a group defending Mao’s actions, and allowed her mind to become deluded. She never questioned or criticized the ideology, and jumped at the change to run away. The journey of Pearl and Joy is very interesting to see their growth, and come to terms with what China has become. Nothing would prepare them for what they would face, Joy would make bad decisions and Pearl had to allow her to make those mistakes.

I highly recommend both Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. I first discovered Lisa See when I picked up “Snow Flower and The Secret Fan.” I love reading about Chinese culture and history, and Lisa See immediately became one of my favorite authors. Surprisingly, “Dreams of Joy” is my first time reviewing one of her books. I would love to read the remaining titles that I haven’t read, and hopefully I will get to do that soon.

In the novels that I have read, I have come to expect a novel full of culture, hardships and strong relationships. “Dreams of Joy” is no different. Her novels carry readers into a world that is full of vivid descriptions that easily come alive. The characters are well developed and realistically damaged. It’s clear that See is an incredible researcher, and an even better writer.


  1. I loooved Snow Flower and Shanghai Girls, but I didn't care for this one... (actually I never finished it). I felt like it moved sort of slowly. Shanghai Girls was my favorite read of that year though, LOL!

    1. I had trouble with Peony in Love. I don't think I finshed that one.

  2. I am a fan of Lisa See since reading Snowflower. I do like that she does her research.
    This book sounds very good.

  3. I haven't read anything on Chinese culture that I can remember. But I'm glad to be introduced to an author I can start with if I ever decided to take that plunge. This one sounds like a complex read full of emotions and misconceptions of the characters. Sounds like a good read. I'll have to keep this author on my radar, maybe start with one of her stand alones.

  4. I loved Shanghai Girls but have read so many mixed reviews of this one that I am afraid to read it lest I be disappointed!

  5. Ooooo love the cover of this one! It's probably not the book for me as there's nothing paranormal involved ;-) but I'm so glad it worked really well for you and I hope you get to go back and read the rest of her books!

  6. I love learning about Chinese culture and history too -- it's the country I studied for my sixth grade project, and it was so different and fascinating! Both Pearl and Joy sound like fantastic characters. I haven't read Shanghai Girls yet, but if you recommend it, I think I might have to consider looking into it! ;)

    Awesome review, Mrs. Q! :)

  7. I have yet to read a book by her, but I do want to. I think my problem is that the library only had translations and they often suck

  8. I finished Peony in Love but it was a struggle. I think I actually skimmed a lot of it just to find out what happened. I loved Shanghai Girls and Snow Flower (I have the movie but haven't watched it) I haven't read Dreams of Joy because I was afraid it wouldn't live up the Shanghai Girls. Thanks for letting me know it's worth the read.

  9. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and really want to read more of See's work. This book sounds amazing.

  10. Thanks for the review. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but hated Peony in Love so I've put off reading any of See's other books. Your rating has encouraged me to pick up Shanghai Girls so that I can get to this one.

  11. I loved Shanghai Girls and can't wait to sink my teeth into this one. Especially if you liked it. See can be hit or miss for me.

  12. I really enjoyed Shanghai Girls so I'm anxious to read this one. I've been really getting into Asian historical fiction lately.

  13. Great review! I'm so not familiar with this book since before, but now I'm quite intrigued. Well developed and realistic characters as well as an awesome researcher and writer? Sounds quite good to me:) Well that and the plot together. ;)

  14. So glad to see you enjoyed this book. I've only read Shanghai Girls and loved it, and I have no idea why I've let this book sit unread on my shelf for so long.

  15. Hi Jennifer,

    There definitely seems to be a big swing in the popularity of Asian fiction right now.

    I think that this is due to the number of good female authors coming through and receiving recognition for their writing.

    This is not a genre that I have ever tried, to be honest, but this author sounds as though she writes in an easy way, that makes the reader feel comfortable, so I have bookmarked this one as a good place to start my quest.

    Thanks for the lovely review.

  16. See is an author I really must read soon -- I've heard so much about her works, and this sounds like a winner!

  17. I really enjoyed reading Shanghai Girls, and I've been wanting to pick up Dreams of Joy as well.

  18. This book was hearbreaking at times but a wonderful book continued about 2 sisters love for each other, even in the hard times. Also it has a bit of a love story and the best part is our love for our children, whether they be biologically or not! Enjoy, Lisa See is a master storyteller