Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Read by: Ruthie Ann Miles and Kimiko Glenn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 14 hours and 7 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Ethnic minority, the Akha, farm in remote mountains of China aligning their lives around the seasons, farming of tea, and traditions that have been passed down through millennia.  Li-yan grows up learning the traditions, but times change rapidly after the modern world finds them and wants their tea.  Li-yan faces many struggles including, how to keep the traditions alive while also moving forward in the world.  Her main struggle in life is having an illegitimate baby that she gives up for adoption.  She returns to get her child back from the orphanage only to discover she has been sent to American for adoption.  Will Li-yan ever be reunited with her child?  Will she be able to help out her village in the new and modern world?

I’ll admit, I thought this book was a historical fiction novel at first, and then was stunned to realize that Li-yan is only one year older than myself.  Then I questioned, am I old enough to be in a historical fiction novel at age 39?  I’m still wondering . . .

I learned a lot about China through this novel and it was all very interesting.  I had no idea that China has 55 ethnic minorities.  I also don’t know much about traditions or how modern day business in China works.  I learned a lot of tidbits through the narrative of the story and it left me wanting to learn so much more about China.

I love to learn about cultures around the world, but I must admit I was horrified by the traditions of the Akha people as it related to babies.  Any baby born with a defect, born early, or even as a twin (twins are considered evil and multiple births are something only animals should have) are killed immediately by their father and the parents are kicked out of the village.  Interestingly, Li-yan meets missionaries and is horrified by them and how they talk down to them about their traditions and call them evil.  It’s was an interesting take on what we think it evil and really made me think about this.  Is it more evil to be a missionary and take a woman’s child or give her a surgery unknowingly so she can no longer have any more children?  This book really made me think about how we judge cultures and how we ourselves can be judged.

I love tea so it was very interesting to me learning about tea traditions and how tea was harvested.  This was a major focus of the novel and I loved it.  It was interested how highly valued certain teas are and how Li-yan obtains education in this topic and is able to use it to help her village.  I like how tea is almost like wine with certain flavors, needing to be aged, etc.  I definitely need to learn more about this and try even more than I do now!  I also learned about the heroin trade in this novel sadly, but luckily this was just a side journey.

This book had a very interesting take on adoption as it tells a dual story about Li-yan and her child in America. Constance and Dan Davis adopt baby Haley from China.  She has difficulty adjusting as she doesn’t look like her adoptive parents and also doesn’t look like other Chinese children. Her parents don’t know why, but it’s because she’s from an ethnic minority.  It was interesting look on what is a parent?  Also interesting from the child’s point of view – why was I abandoned by my birth parents?  Why do I look different from my parents?  I really liked the bits of Haley’s life as she grew up, including a group counseling session.  I really liked how each character had a different actor voicing them.

This book was a very powerful story that I admit had me crying at the end.  I wanted the story to continue, but it had a satisfying conclusion that was followed by great music.  This was a very engaging story and I’ll admit to staying in my car a bit longer when I got home or to work to keep listening.  The narrators of the audiobook were outstanding and as I stated above, I really liked that Li-yan and Haley had their own voice, but I especially liked how events like the counseling session were read by a lot of different actors to make it sound like a real session.

Overall, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane of was an extremely engaging and powerful story.  It really tugged on my heart strings and it was an outstanding audiobook.  Besides being very absorbed in the unique narrative, I also learned a lot about China, tea, and adoption.  This was a great book – one of my favorites of this year!


  1. Laura, I enjoyed reading your review and learning about this audio book. It truly sounds fascinating. I did not know anything about this Ethnic minority, the Akha, before venturing here. I think this book by author Lisa See would be very touching to me as well. Excellent review!

    1. It is a touching book and I learned so much while also really enjoying the story line.

  2. It sounds educative, emotional (a bit harrowing) but with strong characters. Interesting read I am sure.

    1. You've captured it! This is exactly how I felt about the book.