The Star Fisher

by Lawrence Yep

    Relocating to a new town can be difficult for almost any teenager.  However, it's even harder for fifteen-year-old Chinese-American Joan Lee, who moves to small town in rural West Virginia in 1927.  Joan's family receives a decidedly less than warm welcome when they first arrive in Clarksburg.  What's worse, home is no haven either, as Joan finds herself at odds with her parents as her modern American ideas and behavior clash with their old fashioned Chinese ways. 
    Joan's new life is filled with a variety of problems, both small  and large -- from lettuce sandwiches and a mother who can't even cook rice to an aggravating little sister to rejection, intolerance, and the threat of violence and poverty.  However, with the help of their landlandy, the remarkable Miss Lucy Bradshaw, Joan and her family overcome prejudice and misunderstandings -- and sometimes their own pride and stubborness -- and learn that it is possible to walk joyfully in two different worlds and maintain their Chinese identity while embracing a new way of life.  More importantly, Miss Lucy helps Joan learn that friends come in unexpected packages, that life can change in wonderful and unexpected ways -- and that no matter where you are or who you are, everyone can fish for stars.

My Opinion...     I absolutely loved The Star Fisher!  Being of Asian ancestry, I wish this book would have been available when I was growing up!  Yep's interweaving of fictionalized versions of old family stories with an ancient Chinese legend is an excellent way to emphasize the importance of his (and Joan's) cultural and ethnic heritage.  The inclusion of this Chinese tale about a child who is half-human and half-magical kingfisher also serves as an imaginative way to depict the the burden of being different.  More importantly, this legend wonderfully illustrates one of the books most important messages -- being different doesn't have to hinder you, it can actually give you wings!  
       Joan's realizations that her friend Bernice and the wonderful Miss Lucy are both of "star fisher stock" like she is, that her parents are fallible, vulnerable human beings, and that prejudice exists on all kinds of levels and between all types of people  help her to understand that no matter where you go, people are just people -- whether young or old, parent or child, Asian or American.  This is a lesson that every person needs to learn, and this book would be a wonderful tool for teaching it.     
About the Author...     Laurence Yep knows firsthand what it feels like to be an  outsider.  Yep, a third generation Chinese-American grew up in  an African-American neighborhood in San Francisco.  Although he attended parochial school in during his elementary and middle school years, Yep still felt he didn't belong because, unlike the other children, he was unable to speak Chinese.  Yep's experiences as an outsider continued when he entered high school, where he had to learn to live and navigate in the white American culture for the first time.       While in high school, Yep capitalized on his feelings of being an outsider and an alien by writing science fiction stories, becoming a published author at the age of eighteen when a science fiction magazine paid him a penny a word for one of his stories.  Yep continued to write for publication in college, graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1970, and earning his doctorate in English from the State University of New York in Buffalo in 1975. 
     Yep's first novel,
Sweetwater, was a children's science fiction novel published in 1973.  Since that time, he has gone on to publish many critically acclaimed works for children and young adults, including  Newbery Honor winners Dragonwings (1975) and Dragon's Gate (1993).  Dragonwings, -- a story that incorporates fact and fiction by weaving "Chinese tradition and legend into a narrative based on the true story of... a Chinese-American who built and flew an airplane... in 1909" (Wilson) -- has also won numerous other awards, including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year Award (1975), the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award (1976), the Carter G. Woodson Book Award (1976), and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1979). 
     Along with writing Chinese-American flavored adolescent fiction and science fiction, some of Yeps's other works include a murder mystery, a teen romance, a play, a novel for adults, and
The Rainbow People, an award-winning collection of Chinese folk tales adapted from a 1930 WPA oral narratives project conducted in Oakland, California's Chinatown.
     In addition to writing, Yep has taught at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz.  He is married and lives in the city he was born in, San Francisco.
Links Learning about Laurence Yep More about Laurence Yep Of Chinese Descent -- A Photo Gallery A 16-year-old's perspective on growing up Asian in America Two short narratives about the Chinese immigrant experience