Do you love fireflies? I do — but I still call them lightning bugs, just as we all did back on the farm. There’s something magical about them as they brighten up your backyard on a warm summer evening. Recently, there have been reports that fireflies as a species are disappearing, or at least that their numbers are observably diminished. Still, I have never seen a firefly in December, and so I was drawn to this title.
In Fireflies in December, a debut novel by Jennifer Erin Valent, we follow 13 year-old Jessilyn Lassiter during the summer of 1932 in southern Virginia. The opening line, “The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I killed a man” certainly catches your attention. We discover that Jessilyn’s family has taken in her best friend, Gemma, after Gemma’s parents die in a tragic fire. Unfortunately, this act is not met with the expected tacit approval. Gemma is black, and racism is rampant in this rural southern town. Prejudice escalates as the local Ku Klux Klan violently threatens Jessilyn and her family. In the end, Jessilyn begins to realize what it means to be a bright light in a dark world.
As this book is a winner of the Christian Writer’s Guild, there are frequent references to faith and prayer, yet it doesn’t come off as preachy. Considering the age of the protaganist, this book could be recommended for young adults, especially if their parents prefer more wholesome fare.
In 1937 Shanghai, Pearl and her sister May are living a glamorous, sophisticated life, modeling as “beautiful girls” for the painters of magazine covers and calendar pages. Their sheltered, privileged world comes to a shattering halt when their Father loses everything and he must sell them into marriage. At first they are able to escape this fate, but when the war begins and the Japanese attack their beloved city, they must flee for their lives.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See follows the harrowing journey that the sisters must undertake – the hardship, the pain and the betrayals as they try to escape the Japanese and find a safe haven first in Hong Kong, then in San Francisco. Throughout it all the sisters remain each others staunchest supporters through good times and bad, through arranged marriages, lost children and oppressive discrimination. Their triumph is that, not only do they emerge from their trials as stronger people, they come through it together.
See also wrote the wildly popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also set in China, and has done extensive research to fill her story with authentic detail. Her story gives us unique views of the past – the Japanese invasion of China and the suffering of the Chinese people at their conquerors hands, the discrimination against the Chinese in America and the Red Scare fear of communist threat that created suspicion against the Chinese in America in the 1950s.
While the trails and suffering that Pearl and May must endure sometimes seem almost endless, the author has left us with a cliffhanger ending, promising a possible sequel and future hope for the beautiful girls from Shanghai.