Namioka, Lensey. An Ocean Apart, a World Away. Delacorte, 2002. ISBN 978-0385900539 208 pp. $
China remains in chaos after the revolution of 1911 and young Xueyan benefits by having a progressive father who encourages her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor of medicine. Yanyan, called Sheila, attends an English school and doesn’t have bound feet, and looks forward to making her own love match, instead of having an arranged marriage. When a political exile that happens to be a former school friend of her elder brother is wounded escaping from the police, it is Yanyan who bandages his injuries.
The two begin to fall in love, but soon the young woman is forced to make a choice between eloping and living a life on the lamb, or following her dream. She chooses college and goes to America where she faces discrimination as a woman, a Chinese, and an immigrant, but in spite of oppression learns to cook and begins to master physics. Through her experience and willingness to try she makes new friends, becomes self-aware and begins to make a new life for herself.
The one flaw of this historical novel is the voice. Yanyan’s first-person narration feels a bit wooden, and there is too much recapping and retelling to get the reader to the point where she leaves for America, and the first semester passes in a blur of setbacks and successes. In spite of her strong personality, she lacks a strong voice. Period details flesh out the story, but also show how little some things have changed in a hundred years.