2 Feb. 2021
Paperback / softback
My study buddy, Henry, has made it his mission to get me to an A in maths the way I’m trying to get him to an A in English.
Wen Zhou is the daughter and only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be not so lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao—whose mum and dad are also poor immigrants—both dream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and they form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.
Tiger Daughter is a novel that will grab hold of you and not let go.
InformationBook Type: Junior High
Age Group: 11 to 14 years
Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
Class Novel: Yes
Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
Literary Rating: 4.5/5
A thought-provoking middle-grade novel that centres on the experience of a 14-year-old Asian-Australian girl, Wen Zhou, who wants to break away from the life her father has prescribed for her. The Zhou family emigrated from China, where Mr Zhou was once a doctor. He refuses to re-sit exams to certify in Australia, and instead works long hours in a Chinese restaurant to provide for the family. He insists that his family appear proper and presentable; Mrs Zhou must prepare full eight course dinners and wear her carefully mended decades-old skirt suits. Wen, at the behest of her father, must improve her maths grades, a subject that does not come naturally to her. Mr Zhou demands obedience from both his wife and daughter.
Wen befriends Henry Xiao at school, who is also the child of Chinese immigrants. The two plan to sit an entrance exam to attend a selective government school on the other side of town. Henry dreams of the excellent science and maths program, and Wen longs for a chance at their outstanding arts, athletics and humanities programs. Both keep their studies for the exam a secret from their parents; Wen in particular fears that her father will forbid her from attending the school even if she does get in.
Henry stops coming to school and Wen learns that his mother, who had depression, has died by suicide. Wen is concerned that Henry is not being looked after by his father, who works long hours, and that he will miss his chance at his dream school. She begins to leave leftover food outside his house. When Mrs Zhou finds out, she accompanies Wen with more food—to ensure that Henry and his father are being looked after. She does this even though she knows her husband would not allow association with the Xiao family due to the cultural shame of suicide.
Wen continues to pass Henry his homework and bring him and his father meals. Through helping Henry and his father, Mrs Zhou grows in confidence, and–as a result of her acts of kindness— is offered work translating for a pharmacist.
When Mr Zhou is fired from the restaurant he is extremely enraged to learn that his wife and daughter have been disobeying him. Mrs Zhou accepts the offer of work in order to bring income in for the family and tells her husband to stop allowing his pride to get in the way of what he was meant to do—help people. When Henry and Wen finally sit the exam for the selective school, it is with the support of both their parents.
Tiger Daughter is a fascinating portrayal of Asian-Australian experience. Wen and her mother, who have little power within their household, find ways of coming into their own. A wonderful own-voices novel with many avenues worth exploring in the classroom, that is also a pleasure to read in its own right.
family, resilience, Asian-Australian experience, immigration, migrants, friendship, culture
1. Wen’s father is violent—(hits her across the back of the hands with a cane) (p. 17); pulls her mother by the arm and she cries out in pain (p. 145). 2. Miss Spencer tells Wen that Henry’s mother is dead. She was “in the apple tree”, implying she committed suicide—no other descriptions (p. 39). 3. Racial slurs: “Slant eyes” (p. 3), “Ching Chong Chinaman” (p. 45), “uppity little chink” (p. 149).
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