[Reviewed by Jennifer Harbourn]
It’s all too common for a reader to find themselves snuggled cozily in their home, under blankets within the safety of their predictable world. It’s in such cases that the juxtaposition of a novel such as Valerie Lee’s The Jade Rubies truly shakes the reader. As I watched a tale of two innocent Chinese girls unfold, I became self-aware; knowing that I would never have to endure the trauma that these girls lived for 251 pages was both a relieving and guilt laden experience. This isn’t the first time that I’ve experienced this particular set of emotions, as I’m often drawn to stories concerning the multicultural plight of women.
Set in 1915, we’re introduced to two sisters, Sulan and May. In a whirlwind fashion, the girls are torn away from their mother after being sold to a child broker and then to a wealthy couple who takes them on a life changing journey to the New World. Once settled into Vancouver with their master and mistress, the sisters fall into a routine of abuse at the hands of rich sadists and drug traffickers.
Valerie Lee shows us by way of sights and the imagery of scents that a deep mystery is set to unfold by the end of the book. I found myself deeply invested in the kindly characters and equally critical of the villains. I think she found her voice as a writer and used it well.
While the story was absolutely captivating and kept me turning page after page, I did encounter a few issues with the formatting of the book. On an aesthetic note, the paragraphs were not block justified as most books tend to be. The typeface was sometimes inconsistent, and there were several punctuation errors sprinkled throughout the text. At times, these glitches slowed my reading as my eyes sought to make sense of what they were seeing on the page.
I also would have liked to have seen a more cohesive sense of time and separation of character point of views. I believe that the story flowed as intended, but a second look at chapter structure would have tightened up the story beautifully!
The story survived beyond the printed word and is now emblazoned in my mind. Ever since I closed on the last page, I haven’t been able to get Sulan and her sister out of my head. What happened after that last page? I honestly wouldn’t mind a sequel!